By Genalyn Kabiling
No public funds were wasted in the government’s information caravan in Europe, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar assured the public Monday.
After drawing criticisms from two senators for the foreign trip, Andanar explained that the “press freedom caravan” involving PCOO officials to Bosnia, Belgium and Switzerland was part of an “official mission.”
“Rest assured no public funds were wasted in this official mission which came about from a directive from the National Security Council,” Andanar said.
“All engagements in Bosnia, Brussels and Geneva are all part of PCOO mandate to deliver and disseminate information relation to policies, programs, and achievements of the President and Executive Branch,” he said.
He added that the PCOO might also establish and maintain local and international field offices “to ensure that accurate information from the President and the Executive Branch is promptly and efficiently relayed.”
Senator Grace Poe and Senator Francis Pangilinan have reportedly questioned the PCOO-led caravan in Europe, that reportedly seeks to highlight the administration’s policies related to media, as well as government’s position on the case of Rappler chief Maria Ressa.
The two senators asked the PCOO to use its funds instead for worthwhile causes such as promotion of the vaccination program in the country.
Andanar earlier revealed that a team of PCOO officials would conduct a press freedom caravan in Europe to discuss the administration’s freedom of information initiative, creation of the presidential task force on media security, and government-media bridge policy. He added that the team would explain to the international community the “nature” of Ressa’s case and that the government was not behind the complaint against her.
In his latest statement, Andanar explained that the PCOO officials sent to Europe were actually part of the government’s delegation to clarify the issue on “involuntary disappearances,” anti-communist terrorist groups, among others.
He said the PCOO, being a committee member of the National Task Force (NTF) to End Communist Armed Conflict pursuant to Executive Order 70, provides communications support in terms of messaging and content to the anti-communist terrorist groups efforts.
“In the same NTF mission, PCOO found it an opportune time to bring the Press Freedom Caravan in Brussels and Geneva to maximize the official trip,” he said.
“The Communications Department has been holding Press Freedom caravans locally and internationally to bring government to Filipinos even those in the international community,” he added, citing the first caravan was held in Thailand last January.
He explained that the caravan was “a side event” during the official meetings with officials from the EU Parliament, Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), European Commission, and leaders of the Filipino community.
On the case of Ressa, he admitted that he has directed PCOO officials to respond to any queries about the case while abroad.
“The arrest of Ms. Maria Ressa happened two days after the official delegation 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,” he added.
He claimed that his radio interview was “taken out of context.” “I only used Ressa’s case as an example of what might be raised in the caravan; We didn’t know much about the Ressa case when we prepared for this trip,” he said.