Budget Watch

PCOO asks for P200M to put up Visayas Media Hub in 2022

Pia Ranada
PCOO asks for P200M to put up Visayas Media Hub in 2022

NEW PROJECT FOR 2022. PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar explains the Visayas Media Hub project to House members.

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Progressive lawmakers express concerns that 2022 PCOO funds and resources will be used by President Duterte and his allies for political mileage during an election year

The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is asking for P200 million in its proposed 2022 budget for the construction of a Visayas Media Hub set to rise in Mandaue, Cebu.

PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar, during a House budget briefing on Tuesday, September 7, said the proposed building was one major reason for the agency’s higher budget proposal for next year.

“This is because of the four-fold, year-on-year increase of the capital outlay, getting a third of the PCOO Proper’s allocation. This will be pored into the construction of the Visayas Media Hub, an infrastructure flagship project of the administration, and the acquisiton of ICT euqipment to enhance office productivity as we wade through this evolving digital space,” he told House members.

The P200 million would go to the construction of the media hub’s four-story main building, “phase 1” of the project.

Originally, the PCOO asked the budget department for a total of P870 million for the Visayas Media Hub – P300 million would go to the construction of the main building and tower while P570 million would go to “modern and high-definition TV and radio, podcast equipment, facilities and utilities.”

But the budget department slashed this and suggested that the rest of the required funding be spaced out through a multi-tier contract over several years.

PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan said the agency hopes Congress would include more allocations for the proposed building in 2023 or after the Duterte administration.

The plan to put up PCOO’s Visayas Media Hub comes after the agency launched the Mindanao Media Hub in Davao City, Duterte’s hometown, in December 2020.

About P340 million was spent on the Mindanao hub’s building while P408 million was spent for its TV broadcast equipment, according to People’s Television Network Incorporated General Manager Kat de Castro.

For 2022, PCOO is asking for P1.91 billion, up from its P1.62-billion budget in 2021.

PCOO amplifying partisan activities?

Progressive lawmakers called attention to the Visayas Media Hub since its construction will fall on an election year.

Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago said citizens should make sure PCOO’s resources are not used to amplify partisan political activities as this would unduly benefit Duterte and his allies eyeing 2022 electoral victories.

“It’s necessary for the citizens to closely watch how the government’s broadcasting arm is used for partisan political activities and campaigns of political parties or administration bets. We expect that there will be mechanisms so this won’t happen and we can ensure that the public interest comes first,” she said in Filipino.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate called out the PCOO for airing Duterte’s past meetings with members of his political party, PDP-Laban.

Devoting government broadcasting resources to the political activity, he said, gives advantage to Duterte and his political allies seeking media mileage and prominence months before the start of election season.

Andanar responded by saying: “We have the mandate to cover the President. I guess that’s equity of the incumbent, Mr. Chairman.”

Zarate said this was admission that the Duterte administration is using PCOO resources for political propaganda.

“Now it’s very clear that the PCOO, true to its mandate, will give advantage to the President to prusue his political plans in the coming 2022 election…. The entire machinery of the PCOO will be used to the President’s advantage,” said Zarate.

Moving out of Malacañang complex

Apart from funding for the Visayas Media Hub, the proposed capital outlay budget for PCOO increased because of the need to pay for the lease of office space and parking lots.

PCOO Proper is asking for P33.95 million for this, covering a “five-year contract to ensure unhampered operation” of its personnel.

PCOO personnel are currently working from Times Plaza in Manila after the Office of the President (OP) asked the PCOO to vacate its rooms at the New Executive Building inside the Malacañang complex.

According to Andanar, the NEB will eventually be completely occupied by OP personnel and officials after its ongoing renovation.

He also said that the PCOO is paying its rent for Times Plaza space using 2020 fiscal year savings because the budget department did not approve their request for a dedicated allocation. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.