MANILA – The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) is asking for an additional PHP365 million in its proposed 2024 budget to fund its programs and activities, such as its media literacy campaign to combat fake news and the expansion of the freedom of information program.
During a budget briefing of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil requested an additional allocation of PHP364.94 million to finance and sustain the tier 2 proposals of the PCO Proper.
Garafil explained that the PCO submitted a budget request of almost PHP920 million to the Department of Budget and Management, but only PHP495 million was approved under the 2024 National Expenditure Program (NEP).
"In as much as the PCO remains committed to fulfilling our mission and exercising our mandate, we earnestly hope that the committee will consider approving our tier 2 proposals which essentially covers the operations, activities and projects of our new media operations clusters," Garafil said.
"We also wish to emphasize that our NEP level for 2024 is lower than its allotments in previous years. This despite the fact that our new mandate is now expanded and that the PCO now has more projects being implemented pursuant to EO (Executive Order) 16," she added.
EO 16 reorganized the PCO to rationalize and consolidate the functions of the communications arm of the executive branch, including the Office of the President (OP).
Among the programs included in the tier 2 proposals is the Marcos administration's Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Campaign Project to combat misinformation and disinformation online.
The PCO, in partnership with other government agencies, will develop a comprehensive execution plan that will address the root causes of the proliferation of disinformation.
Also included in the tier 2 proposals is the expansion of the Freedom of Information Program, which would provide the citizen's right to access government-held information, documents, data and statistics.
Garafil said additional Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) requirements are likewise needed for providing prior coordination and coverage arrangement to presidential events and activities.
She said the PCO has effectively managed and covered both local and international presidential engagements, particularly 236 presidential engagements and 156 coordination meetings and site inspections.
Other tier 2 programs, activities and projects that require funding are the Kadiwa ng Pangulo, Konsyerto sa Palasyo, Bagong Pilipinas debates, Bagong Pilipinas town hall meetings, climate change fora, and the Unified Communications (UNICOMM) project, among others.
MIL to fight fake news
Garafil defended the PHP19-million funding the PCO is asking for in its MIL Campaign for 2024, as it seeks to combat fake news, misinformation and disinformation, especially in social media.
“Maraming information na kumakalat na (There is a lot of information being spread that are) outrightly false.. that’s why we launched the MIL specifically to fight fake news,” Garafil told the House panel.
“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to really address it, para at least ma-empower natin ang mga tao na maging mas discerning sa kanilang mga nababasa sa (to at least empower the people to be more discerning on what they read in) social media especially,” she said.
PCO Undersecretary for Digital Media Services Emerald Anne Ridao said the MIL campaign has two programs that will be run simultaneously throughout the year: training teachers in basic to tertiary levels to update their capacity to teach MIL; and a campus caravan to directly talk to students regarding how they can become the individuals that can distinguish between what is valid information and what is misinformation and disinformation.
She said from there, the program would proceed to the next most vulnerable one, the senior citizens, and to other sectors and other demographics as well.
“The MIL aims to empower the citizens to be the one themselves to determine if the information is valid or is it fake news. What we want is to empower the citizens to make that decision once they encounter the information,” Ridao said.
House Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin said the PHP19-million funding for the MIL campaign is a small price to pay considering the huge impact of fake news in the lives of the Filipino people, especially the youth.
She said fake news can even be “possibly a way for some government destabilizers to have some significance in the day-to-day activities of the Filipino people.”
“If we take out that budget, it simply means we are allowing fake news to propagate, not only in the current generation, but more so in the upcoming generations. And this cannot only ruin lives, it can ruin our country, and it can even ruin the future of our children,” Garin said.
Independent minority lawmaker Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman asked the PCO to “draft or craft a bill mandating media literacy campaigns to be part of the curriculum from basic education to tertiary education.”
The Marcos administration launched the Media and Information Literacy Campaign last August 14 at the Hilton Manila in Pasay City.
Present during the launch were representatives from Meta (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Threads, and WhatsApp), Google, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter).
The project also involves the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. It will initially be rolled out to the youth.
“We must allow everyone to discern for themselves what is real and what is not, what is propaganda, what is facts, what is data, what is speculation, these are all the things that we want people to learn,” President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said during the event.
“We have to find a way that whatever inputs that the people are getting they have the ability to discern fake news,” he added.
Presidential son and Ilocos Norte (1st District) Rep. Sandro Marcos, for his part, said he would support an increase in the PCO's budget for 2024 through institutional amendments to the General Appropriations bill.
"It's quite clear that despite the transformative process that the PCO is undergoing and the headwinds that its attached agencies are experiencing, their budget is indeed quite meager. So I would just like to make a short manifestation of support not only to the PCO and its attached agencies, but to Sec. Cheloy, whom as we know is a product of the House, for any institutional amendments to increase the budget of the department and its attached agencies," Marcos said.
The PCO Proper and its attached agencies were allocated a total of PHP1.793 billion under the NEP.
Of the amount, PHP495.77 million (28 percent) will be allocated for the PCO Proper, PHP482 million (27 percent) for the Presidential Broadcast Service - Bureau of Broadcast Services (PBS-BBS), PHP378.9 million (21 percent) for the Philippine Information Agency, PHP179.4 million (10 percent) for the Radio Television Malacañang, PHP147 million (8 percent) for the News and Information Bureau, PHP95.6 million (5 percent) for the Bureau of Communications Services, and PHP13 million (1 percent) for the National Printing Office. (PNA)