National Museum opens doors in October, but bars employees from speaking to media
MANILA, Philippines—The National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) is opening its Manila galleries free to the public this whole month, but its museum employees have been prohibited from speaking to the media on controversies hounding the cultural institution.
According to museum employees who asked not to be identified due to fear of reprisal, NMP Director Jeremy Barns issued the gag order due to criticisms thrown at his administration following the disclosures that the shoes and gowns of former first lady Imelda Marcos and barong shirts of ex-President Ferdinand Marcos under the museum’s care have been damaged due to neglect.
A National Geographic article also claimed museum officials might have been involved in the smuggling of ivory in the country, which Barns has yet to reply to.
In a memorandum dated Oct. 1, a copy of which was provided to the Philippine Daily Inquirer by museum employees, Barns reminded employees that “it is the protocol in government agencies that disclosures to the media, either in writing or by way of interview, inside or outside the premises of the agency and concerning its business, are properly carried out only with due authorization.”
“In the case of the National Museum, this authorization must be expressly given by the Director, and such authorization must be sought in each and every case when the need or any invitation might arise,” he said.
The purpose of authorization, he added, “is to ensure that pertinent and concerned people and stakeholders are appropriately informed, that information is accurate, and that the interests of the entire agency and of the service are upheld, rather than those of a narrow, particularistic or self-serving nature.”
Barns also said that outside engagements of any kind involving any personnel of the Museum taken on official time, or by virtue of official capacity or association, or in representation of the museum, must be authorized by him beforehand.
He lamented that there were “recent instances: of violations of both these policies that have come to his attention, “including instances of unprofessional and undisciplined behavior that have resulted in misrepresentation and waste.”
Some of the employees, however, described the memo as a violation of their right to free speech and right to air their grievances.
“If we see something wrong in the museum, it is our obligation to inform the people, who as President Aquino said, are our boss. Our pleas have fallen on deaf ears; going to the media is our last resort,” said one employee.
Barns has been on the receiving end of criticism from “concerned employees” of the museum over the validity of his appointments.
Early this year, the Civil Service Commission invalidated his appointment, along with those of the assistant directors, after ruling that the positions were career posts, and the the museum board of trustees erred in its stand that posts were coterminous with the board. Barns and the assistant directors filed motions for reconsideration, which have yet to be resolved.
Several employees have asked Malacañang to put an end to the controversy by replacing Barns but the President instead asked board chairman Ramon del Rosario to speak to the employees.
Employees have also written the Commission on Audit to complain about the use of museum funds, and the Department of Education, the museum’s mother agency, to complain about Barns’ leadership.
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