POSTSCRIPT / October 12, 2010 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Rising cost of those presidential messages

CLARK FIELD — Some people have asked what I think of the funding versus the functions of the two departments – one for creating and another for distributing presidential messages — that emerged out of the reorganized Office of the Press Secretary.

In general and simplified terms, the work of the first department is to create the messages, while the second makes sure the messages are carried by the media. Their only client is President Aquino, not the entire government.

If the reorganized Office of the Press Secretary, now called Communications Group, were a commercial concern, the first unit manufactured the goods while the other marketed them.

The message factory reportedly wanted a P200-million budget for 2011, while the sales outfit already has P1 billion to do its marketing job. What will analysts say of that 1-to-5 ratio?

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TOO HIGH: Not privy to the details, many of which are confidential, I can only comment in a general way.

The first unit, that of Secretary Ricky Carandang, carries the jaw-breaking name of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office. The other one, that of Secretary Herminio Coloma, is called Presidential Communications Operations Office.

How does Carandang intend to spend P200 million in developing the President’s messages and Coloma the P1 billion in selling the messages?

President Aquino, btw, has said that he thought P200 million (the sum of a proposed P150 million added to the approved P50-million budget) for Carandang was “too high.”

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OVERPRICED?: This observer shares the hunch of the President.

Planning and creating messages will not require P200 million even if one calls planning by the more expensive name of “strategizing.”

The work entails mainly brain power. Now if Carandang’s ideas are valued in the area of P200 million, then his proposed budget can be justified.

As many media colleagues have noted, his work – aside from brain power – basically requires a laptop, Internet connection and a printer. To get the total, multiply that setup by the number of people he wants to help him “strategize.”

If the messaging Secretary really has what it takes, all he has to do is sit down with his laptop and tap out his thoughts for the President. That should not be too expensive, assuming his occasional bright ideas are not overpriced.

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FRILLS: For the frills, add the expenses for dressing up and emoting for the TV cameras, refurbishing the office once and buying a new car. Throw in travel expenses and reasonable entertaining.

For the work place, any ergonomic desk in a comfortable and well-stocked office will do – nothing fancy in keeping with the frugality of our reformist President.

You think all that will require P200 million? To some people, even the original P50-million budget might be too much.

What they can do is stick to the P50 million, then dip occasionally into the President’s social and intelligence funds, the billions that are not audited in depth and detail.

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TEMPTATIONS: As for Secretary Coloma, his P1 billion is the total budget of the offices under his control and supervision. His camp fought hard to get that golden goose of the Communications Group.

You get an inkling of the tons of money passing through his office when you consider that under him are the government printing office, the state-run radio and television stations, the Philippine Information Agency, among other units.

The old racket here includes commissions for equipment and supplies, and juicy contracts. It was normal for printing bosses to certify that they could not handle the huge printing orders of government and – but of course – are thus forced to contract them out.

Hopefully, working for a President with a pure heart, Coloma will just bite his lips, close his eyes, pray, and forsake the million temptations.

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STL & JUETENG: Many senators seem to have lumped together illegal jueteng and the legalized Small-Town Lottery operations.

We cannot blame them since many STL operators are also jueteng lords, and their cobradores (bookies) sport STL uniforms and IDs but also take jueteng bets. When the police check on them, they flash their STL props.

But still, to make a sweeping accusation that STL and jueteng are one and the same and that all STL operators are jueteng lords may not be fair.

I know for a fact that some STL operators in Quezon and Laguna, for instance, are not jueteng lords.

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ASK THE BISHOP: In Quezon, the police provincial director has said that the province is jueteng-free.

If you do not believe him, there is Archbishop Marquez who also said on radio that jueteng stopped in Quezon in February 2006 when the STL was introduced there.

You still do not believe that? Talk to the Carmelite sisters who will tell you that Quezon has been rid of jueteng and that the STL operator there does not dabble in jueteng.

So how come some intelligence reports have it that there is jueteng in Quezon? My theory is that the displaced jueteng lords have been salivating for the bad old days and are looking for a chance for a comeback.

* * *

AT ODDS: One way they can operate again would be to discredit the present STL operator who will not allow jueteng to erode his sales and taint the integrity of his STL business.

Okay, there may be some bookies around. But these must be small-time guerrilla jueteng bet collectors who run when the police swoop down on them.

In Laguna, it is public knowledge that the STL and jueteng operators do not see eye-to-eye. Unfortunately, a high provincial official is reportedly protecting jueteng to the consternation of the STL operator.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 12 2010)

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