Senate defers PCOO budget after ‘disrespectful’ conduct by execs attending virtually


The Senate late Monday stopped plenary deliberations on the 2022 budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) following what senators called “reprehensible” conduct by officials seen imbibing alcohol and “inappropriately clothed” while attending the hearing virtually.

Senators also ordered all of the agency’s officials to physically attend the resumption of the budget hearing, as other departments had done.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian was presiding at the plenary session on the budget when he abruptly stopped and, looking quite bothered, called out PCOO officials whom he noticed “kept moving” while their camera was on in their remote location. He noted as well that senators were seeing images of people “inappropriately clothed” and even apparently drinking liquor.

Aghast, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri stood up and wondered aloud, “and why are these people attending virtually when all the officials of other agencies defending their budgets” had physically gone to the Senate.

He then cited as examples Transportation Secretary Art Tugade, who stayed till midnight one day, and “even Education Secretary Liling Briones,” who sat at the session hall and defended her agency’s budget for hours. Briones is 80 years old.

Zubiri then directed the Senate staff to contact all the agency heads scheduled for budget defense on Tuesday and tell them to attend physically.

PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar was attending virtually on Monday night, and was communicating with the budget’s sponsor, Sen. Richard J. Gordon.

Gordon said he hoped Andanar would have a good explanation for the behavior of his subalterns — a conduct that Minority Leader Frank Drilon called “reprehensible” as he moved that the chamber “censure” the officials concerned for disrespect to the Senate.

Questioned PCOO items

Earlier, senators took turns grilling Gordon, the PCOO budget sponsor, on questionable features of the setup and fund use in the Duterte administration’s communications office.

Among others, Senate President Vicente Sotto III cited plans by the PCOO to buy high-end laptops next year for its Davao City team, noting its costly price tags.

The Senate leader observed that based on the PCOO’s proposed 2022 budget, at least “P2.2 million will be allocated to buy eight laptops for the Davao City team of the presidential broadcast staff of  Radio-Television Malacanang, or RTVM.”

Sotto III indicated he was initially inclined to let it pass given that it was normal to buy a laptop, but when his staff made an initial computation, it showed the Palace purchase add up to P280,000.00 per laptop, making it “too costly.”

The Senate leader said that based on their research in the market, the “most high-end laptop” was worth P190,000.00.

In defending the PCOO budget proposal, Sen. Gordon, in turn, said PCOO officials claimed they were intending to buy an “extremely high-end Apple Macbook” for their Davao City team as President Duterte is always there, adding that when a new administration takes over, the costly laptop would be brought back to Malacanang.

Still, Senators sought further explanation from PCOO Martin Andanar who was asked to come back and attend the on-going budget deliberations.

At its resumption, Sen. Gordon raised anew the Department of Health’s cancellation of plans to buy four high-end laptops costing P700,000, or P175,000 each laptop, citing its stiff price.

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