Feud worsens between Duterte press execs
MANILA, Philippines — The head of the government-run Philippine Information Agency (PIA) has been stripped of authority over personnel amid an escalating internecine strife among President Rodrigo Duterte’s press officers.
PIA Director General Harold Clavite received on Tuesday an order from Communications Secretary Martin Andanar subjecting his decision to hire, fire or discipline employees to Andanar’s final approval.
Clavite responded on Wednesday through a post on his Facebook account, saying the order was one of Andanar’s “ill-advised and haphazard” decisions.
‘I can’t let this pass’
“Give me a break. The secretary is clearly ill-advised and is making haphazard decisions. Surrounded by the best of the best running his immediate office, he has been consistent in making inappropriate moves as far as [the] PIA is concerned since 2017. I have a list and I’m happy to share,” Clavite wrote.
“I cannot let this pass. Government officials especially those who represent the President should study their acts well and be mindful of their decisions and actions,” he said.
The order came a day after the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) announced that it was investigating Clavite for alleged corruption.
It said Clavite was being investigated for alleged splitting of contract for the purchase of Asean Komiks, misuse of funds for hotel accommodations, and irregularities in the production of information materials for the Employees’ Compensation Program and in the airing of the government television program “Like Pinas.”
Splitting of contract is a strategy to skirt auditing and bidding rules.
Clavite, in a Facebook post on Monday, said the allegations were baseless and unsubstantiated, and was part of a “demolition job” that had been going on since he undertook a series of financial and organizational reforms in the PIA, including a fact-finding inquiry into irregularities in the agency’s transactions.
In November, two officers voluntarily quit after the inquiry found lapses in the PIA’s financial management division.
“[Some] people were hurt when I started checking and found out there [had] been several irregularities in financial processes,” Clavite said.
“Additionally, I suspended some employee benefits that have no legal basis. I prohibited receiving gifts and ‘pasalubong’ during official travels to regional and provincial offices. I suspended personal use of social media, watching movies and online shopping during work hours,” he said.
Clavite said he sought the intervention of the Commission on Audit and the Office of the Executive Secretary through the PCOO in April and May.
Now “some disgruntled personnel are trying to reverse them by publicly painting a negative picture of me and maligning my person and authority to discredit me,” he said.
Andanar said calling the order stripping Clavite of authority over personnel was “fake news.”
He said the order was issued “to ensure the integrity of the investigation and pursuant to the control and supervisory powers of the PCOO.”
Speaking at a news conference in Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday, Clavite said he gave up a public relations job at United Nations headquarters in New York in 2016 to join the then fledgling Duterte administration, hoping to make a difference in his home country.
Without political backing, he was appointed head of the PIA, a post typically reserved for established journalists or publicists.
“I applied. I did not ask any political party to back my application. I’m confident to say I was selected because of my credentials and background,” Clavite said.
Now he is under investigation for corruption.
“To suggest I’m corrupt and that I enriched myself is very difficult to accept,” Clavite said.
“I made a lot of sacrifices for my work here. I’ve worked nonstop, I have no weekends, I have no evenings—only to be called a thief. I can’t accept that,” he said.
According to his official biography, Clavite, a psychology graduate of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, worked as an information management staffer in the Department of Public Information (DPI) and as executive associate in the UN Development Operations Coordination Office, the agency in charge of UN reform.
At DPI, he was part of an information management unit handling information dissemination to all UN information centers worldwide, including United Nations Development Program (UNDP) country offices and UN peacekeeping field offices.
In 2015, Clavite joined the digital communications team of the UNDP’s Communications Group, handling social media, web content and web project management.
“It was a very difficult decision to give up my career and leave my family. It’s because of my interest and my desire to serve my country,” he said at the Cagayan de Oro news conference on Tuesday.
He said his admiration for the then newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte was one of the factors “that made me come home.”
Clavite’s public LinkedIn profile, however, showed that he was no stranger to working in government.
He was the Sangguniang Kabataan chair of Poblacion, Baroy, Lanao del Norte province, from 1996 to 2000, and had brief stints on the National Youth Commission and in the Senate.
Clavite said he shunned publicity despite the public nature of his job at the PIA.
“I am quite low profile. I do not like to be interviewed and to speak out, but what they’re doing is wrong. I will continue my work and continue my reforms not only for myself but for [the] PIA,” he said.
That, however, has not stopped him from making some controversial remarks once in a while.
In August 2018, Clavite publicly urged then Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson to apologize and go on leave amid a controversy over Uson’s federalism video that was in bad taste.
Earlier this month, he criticized broadcaster Erwin Tulfo for insulting Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista on state-run radio.
As to his run-in with Andanar, he said he would not be bullied.
“I sacrificed too much and I don’t deserve this stupidity and shall not allow myself to be bullied this way,” he said in his Facebook post on Wednesday.
In that post, he complained about Andanar’s refusal to give him leave to travel to New York to attend his daughter’s ballet performance.
“I left my family in 2016 to help the President and serve the country I so love and respect. Now I am ready and willing to give up that commitment for Stacey’s ballet recital,” he said.
“I am a New Yorker. I am rude. Get out of my way, idiots! See you at the airport,” Clavite said. —With a report from Nestor Corrales
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