WHEN last June 13, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) in a press release identified Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian as “Sen. Winston Gatchalian,” it was not the first blunder that exploded on the state agency’s face.
Two days before that, on June 11, PCOO’s press statement expressing condolence on the death of former national security adviser Jose Roilo Golez identified Roilo as “Rogelio.” And the day after that, the PCOO in a photo release named the country of Norway ambassador to the Philippines Erik Forner, who made a farewell call on President Duterte, as a “representative of Norwegia.”
Three gaffes in four days? Too many and too closely repetitive for a high-profile public information office. As Senator Gatchalian noted, PCOO is “a very important government agency.” “Hindi ordinaryong opisina,” he said, “pinakamataas na communications office.”
The senator worried over the damage to “credibility” of PCOO which handles policy messages from President Duterte who, as the No. 1 public official, is the face of the government.
But aren’t those mistakes “inconsequential”? Maybe they were more than typos or mechanical mistakes but could they hurt the president’s image, much more topple the government? Perhaps not: wrongly naming a person or country is far less hazardous than tilting with the God of Catholics who dominate the country’s populace.
But dismissing the repeat errors as “bereft of much consequence” is to allow ineptness and sloth in a job that requires competence and diligence.
While PCOO chief Martin Andanar was apologetic over the recent serial lapses and admitted “an organizational problem,” he also talked about possible “saboteurs” in the PCOO and seemed to take refuge in Murphy’s Law (“if there is a possibility for something to go wrong, it will go wrong”). On top of his foil that “it can happen to the best news organization,” the response is not comforting.
Other boo-boos were made before by PCOO and the state news agency PNA: from grammatical errors in its press card for Malacañang reporters (an in-house flap) to the more serious sin of deceptively using photos of Honduran cops and soldiers in the Vietnam war (a propaganda disaster).
Errors stand out
When slips go beyond rush-of-deadline typos and grammar and become deliberate or reckless falsehood, they can no longer be explained away as organization snafu.
Not when the lapses are too repetitive not to stand out and be noticed. One newspaper sub-editor once said, “Tell me if even our best editor has not made a mistake.” An occasional mistake cannot be avoided but a road-show of errors cannot be justified by the “inevitability” of making a mistake.
Such may be the case of the PCOO, its news agency, and some of its hired writers who continue to write blogs that defend the president and not to answer for them.
A curious thing about their sense of accountability. While the blog writers are on government payroll and bound by state rules and values on conduct, they’ve deflected the charge of spreading misinformation by claiming they write “in their private capacity.” Rules that govern government employees don’t apply to what they write in social media, or so they argue.
Matter of funding
People know why the work of PCOO and its units faces as much scrutiny as that of a private news organization. PCOO is funded by taxpayers: its budget this year is a whooping P1.38 billion.
But while a consumer of private media can cut off his news subscription or shut out a broadcast station whose credibility is tattered, the taxpayer has no recourse against an error-prone PCOO or PNA.
Andanar will face questions in the next Senate hearing on the 2019 budget. And one lawmaker, whom PCOO renamed “Sen. Winston Gatchalian,” has not promised to keep his cool.