It was the turn of Cebu City councilors to question the city government’s newsletter and television program, saying these were being used as a tool by Mayor Michael Rama against his political opponents.
At yesterday’s budget hearing, the City Council placed the city’s public information officer, Carlo Dugaguda, in the hot seat.
The PIO is seeking a P2.9 million budget for 2013.
“It’s hard for us to consider a budget when we know that the budget will be used against us and will be continued to be used against us,” said Councilor Margot Osmeña, chairman of the budget and appropriations committee.
Dugaduga said P2.7 million will be used to publish the BARUGG monthly newsletter, which will increase its print run from 6,000 copies to 20,0000 if funding is approved next year.
He made the same request in 2012, which the City Council turned down.
A similar budget inquiry is taking place in the Capitol, where the Provincial Board is scrutinizing even larger proposed outlays of P22 million for printing of the bi-monthly Sugbo News newsletter, P8 million for the Sugbo TV cable program and P10 million for advertising that supports some radio programs.
Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale on Monday questioned why provincial funds are being spent for radio block timers who go on air and attack opposition members in the board, including herself.
In Cebu City, Dugaduga said part of the PIO’s budget would be spent to buy supplies for the production of the city’s 30-minute television program aired daily over Cebu Catholic Television Network (CCTN) and RCTV cable channel.
The newsletter was launched in February 2011. BARUGG stands for Bayanihan Advocates Rallying for Unity and Good Governance. City Hall’s website described it as a newsletter to “showcase the activities done or sponsored by the city government”.
Councilor Osmeña, however, said the BARUGG newsletter appears to be “very personal and political in nature.”
Councilor Alvin Dizon pointed to the September issue of BARUGG wherein the newsletter headlined Mayor Rama’s filing of a complaint against south district Rep. Tomas Osmeña before the Office of the Ombudsman on the use of Dodge sedans which the mayor claims to have been donated to the city.
Dizon said the article did not carry Osmeña’s side, a “lapse” which Dugaduga admitted.
Majority Floor Leader Augustus Pe Jr. asked why articles in the newsletter were limited to the activities of the Office of the Mayor. He also questioned Dugaduga’s P25,000 request for local travel.
Dugaduga reminded the councilors that as agreed during his earlier appearance in a City Council hearing, the legislative department was supposed to identify their own writer to their cover activities because the PIO only has two writers.
The city mayor’s TV program is being aired for free on CCTV, said Assistant Budget Officer Marieta Gumia.
This prompted Councilor Sisinio Andales to ask why the program is enjoying free airtime on CCTN while the city government is paying RCTV to air “City Council Reports”, a television program of the legislative department.
“The act of accepting something that is for free is a violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices. We have to look into that,” he said.
Dugaduga, former chairman of the Cebu chapter of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas, said he was not privy to how City Hall negotiated free airtime on the Catholic TV cable station. He said his role is just to make sure materials are produced for TV broadcasts.
Dugaduga said he was also not involved in negotiating for the city’s radio program over station dyRF anchored by commentator Tony Avila.
The program, which cost the city P1.7 million this year, is managed by the office of Councilor Jose Daluz III and is aired two hours daily, he said.
The City Council earlier refused to renew Avila’s consultancy contract because of his on air criticisms of City Council members.
Before he was finally excused, Councilor Osmeña questioned Dugaduga’s appearance in the Mayor Rama’s nightly “pulong-pulong” (political meetings).
“I have heard that you have been challenging the audience (of the pulong pulongs) to just report you,” she asked, reminding him that department heads should remain non-partisan.
Dugaduga denied the allegation.
“That may be your personal choice but your being part of the city government does not stop at 5 p.m.,” Osmeña said.
Dugaduga said he was just following the mayor’s instructions.
“Who am I to refuse such an order,” he asked.
Asked by Councilor Pe asked if the mayor’s instructions include that he also campaign for Rama’s re-election, Dugaduga said: “Partly kumpanya and to speak of his (Rama’s) accomplishments”.
Councilor Andales said Dugaduga’s presence in the mayor’s political gatherings is “highly unethical.”
“You should not be a blind follower of the mayor. You should represent the office of the mayor and not the mayor because you are paid for by the city and not the mayor,” Andales said.