WE take time to comment today on the announced abolition of the Strategic Communications Office (SCO) in Malacañang. For something strategic, meaning vital and important for the attainment of objectives, we naturally supposed that abolition would be the least likely fate of the SCO.
Based on the evidence, however. the SCO is not strategic at all. It is understandable and to be expected that Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, through Office Order 26, has decided to formally abolish the SCO as a unit of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) in line with the ongoing reorganization of its communications functions and services in the administration.
This is coming down to earth in a big way. At one time, during the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, strategic communications appeared to be the heart and soul of Malacañang communications. It was a fancy name for the communications efforts of the Aquino presidency.
The SCO had a full-time strategic planning secretary in the person of former broadcaster Ricky Carandang and a deputy secretary in the person of former newspaper columnist Manuel Quezon 3rd, both of whom enjoyed special access to President Aquino and carried lofty titles.
What doomed the office to eventual abolition was the fact that the SCO was narrowly conceived (with the interests of its managers in mind), and it spent all its energies and its huge budget on the glorification of Aquino and defending his whims and vindictive policies.
The new communications office sees its work in a more enlightened way. It is not concerned with rivalry with the office of Press Secretary Ernesto Abella, who seems happy just issuing sometimes useful and sometimes erratic statements in defense of the President.
Explaining the order to abolish the SCO, Andanar said in a statement: “The main reasons are to streamline and to adjust to our new comprehensive communications strategy in promoting the policies of the different executive departments. The recent communications programs, Dutertenomics, real numbers, extremism [and]martial law and other upcoming events, have increased the demand for the PCOO team to assist other departments. Thus, there is a need to restructure our manpower assignments.”
This does not make strategic communications irrelevant. As we understand the concept in communications studies, strategic communications is designed to foster integrated communications within large corporations and entire governments. It is public relations in the private and public sectors. This idea of integration fits the need for the PCOO to serve both the communication needs of the President and the communication needs of the entire administration.
Secretary Andanar would do well to remember the principal reasons for organized government communications in a democratic society in shaping his office’s comprehensive communications program. These are:
1. A democratic government is best served by a free two-way flow of ideas and accurate information between government and the public, so citizens and their government can make informed choices and decisions.
2. A democratic government must report and be accountable to the citizens it serves.
3. Citizens as taxpayers have a right to government information, subject to some exceptions.
This rationale for government communication includes working effectively and constructively with a free press.