Why the sudden urge to explain Ressa arrest? lawmakers ask PCOO
Two lawmakers on Monday questioned why the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), after ignoring international criticism of the killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, suddenly felt the need to tour Europe to explain the state of press freedom in the Philippines.
Reports said the PCOO would hold a “press freedom caravan” to discuss issues concerning the press in the Philippines, including the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa last week on a cyberlibel charge.
Malacañang has denied that it had a hand in Ressa’s arrest, saying it was a result of a citizen being unhappy with a story that Rappler posted.
“Why is the government suddenly interested in clearing its name before the international community on the arrest of Maria Ressa when before it ignored criticisms of extrajudicial killings as a result of the drug war?” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan noted that the President’s aides had been responding to allegations that Ressa’s arrest was harassment.
“Aren’t the President’s defenders enough to parry the views on the apparently harassment incident?” he asked.
To see winter?
Pangilinan said he wondered whether PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar had another motive in scheduling the Europe tour, and asked how much this would cost taxpayers.
“Could it be that Secretary Andanar and the PCOO people just want a whiff of winter, thus, the sudden urge to go into this information caravan? How much is the PCOO spending for this trip in taxpayer money?” he said.
The funds for the trip could be used instead to help the Department of Health encourage more parents to have their children vaccinated to fight the measles outbreak, he said.
Sen. Grace Poe offered the same suggestion, saying the money could be used to prod more people to get vaccinations, or spent on an information campaign to ensure peaceful and orderly elections.
These are better uses of the people’s tax money than a Europe tour, Poe said.
“Is it really necessary to spend people’s money on this? Aren’t the explanations of the numerous officials speaking on the issue enough?” she said.
Noting that Ressa’s case was already in court, Poe said it was better to let the process take its course.
Andanar issued a statement to explain that his statement in a recent interview about the subject had been taken out of context.
He said he simply instructed PCOO officials already in Europe as part of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to answer questions about the arrest of Ressa.
Andanar said Ressa was arrested two days after the PCOO officials left for Europe.
“Nobody from the delegation was aware it was coming. In any case, it is just natural for me to instruct the PCOO officials in Europe to answer possible queries about Ms Ressa,” Andanar said.
He said the PCOO “found it an opportune time to bring the press freedom caravan [to] Brussels and Geneva to maximize the official trip.”
Andanar said the PCOO had been going on such tours “locally and internationally” to inform Filipinos, especially those living in other countries, about the work of the government.
The first tour was to Bangkok, Thailand, in January, he said.
Andanar gave assurance that “no public funds are wasted in this official mission, which came about from a directive from the National Security Council.”
“All engagements in Bosnia, Brussels and Geneva are all part of [the] PCOO mandate to deliver and disseminate information [in] relation to policies, programs and achievements of the President and the executive branch,” he said. —With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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