Press Release
September 16, 2021

'Proof of life?': Drilon asks records of 1,479 contractual employees of Palace communications group suspected of being trolls

To avoid suspicions of state-funded troll farms, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon demanded records of 1,479 contractual employees of the Palace's communications group, 375 of which work at the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) that were recently flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

During the budget hearing of the PCOO on Thursday, Drilon aired his suspicion that these contractual employees could be "trolls".

"Ito yung mga troll?" Drilon asked lightly. "Hindi mo naman aaminin na may troll kayo."

In the PCOO alone, PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan confirmed they had hired 375 employees with a "contract of service" status with a budget of P76 million. Drilon labelled it as "contract of trolls."

But Drilon found that "odd" considering that they have huge vacancies in their plantilla positions. Only 2,107 out of 3,883 plantilla positions have been filled up.

The Palace communications group is asking for P1.9 billion for 2022 from its present budget of P1.62 billion. Of which, the PCOO is allocated with P740.62 million from P502.28 million this year; the Bureau of Broadcast Service with P456.03 million from P405.53 million; the Bureau of Communications Services with P70.59 million from P68.62 million; the National Printing Office with P9.13 million from P11.89 million; the News and Information Bureau with P129.20 million from P133.12 million; the Philippines Information Agency with P333.54 million from P317.60 million; and the RTVM with P171.86 million from P178.79 million.

Drilon asked for proof that the 1,479 temporary hires are "legitimate and existing" and not "ghost employees", specifically the 375 employees in the PCOO that were flagged by COA. He asked the PCOO to submit their records, including their names, addresses and job description. The committee also asked for the employees' daily time record.

Ablan said they would comply but would have to seek the opinion of their legal office if the addresses can be provided, citing the Data Privacy Act.

But Drilon quickly countered the undersecretary, saying that there are public funds involved.

"These are public records and you are asking for public funds. You better provide us with these documents that we need in order for us to be convinced that this budget will be properly used," Drilon said.

"So, don't invoke any confidentiality here, because these are public funds and these are subject to audit and if these are subject to audit, these are subject to scrutiny by the branch of the government who is holding the purse," the former justice secretary said.

"You are asking for the appropriation of public funds and it is our right to know. As part of our right to know, it is to make sure that they are not fictitious names," he added.

"Even if they are trolls, we will accept that as long as they are legitimate and existing. We are not asking for their fingerprints, mind you," he said.

Meanwhile, Drilon questioned the rationale for the construction of a media hub in the Visayas, which Drilon labeled as propaganda hubs, worth P200 million amid a pandemic.

Aside from the P200 million for the construction of the Visayas media hub, the PCOO has also allocated P50 million for next year for a training academy in Bukidnon.

"I think a rational assessment would tell you that these are not urgent projects - putting up a building to house an academy for propaganda and having P50 million again as MOOE for propaganda," Drilon said.

"We have been hearing the budget and it is very obvious that we need funds for COVID-19 response. Every single peso of resources should go to COVID-19 response and the much-needed vaccines," Drilon added.

Similar to the P28 billion NTF-ELCAC's anti-insurgency fund, Drilon suggested that the said PCOO projects be delayed for 2023 and the funds be used to augment the country's pandemic response.

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