A Farewell to Aquino’s Communications Office; and A Portfolio of Its Works & Archives

When he was still president, Noynoy Aquino had not been known for his tact and sensitivity: the Mamasapano and Kidapawan incidents were but two testaments to that. For a man who claimed to answer to the Filipino people, he had poor public relations skills, if not a poor PR team.

In the transition period following a national election, then, it goes without saying that coterminous government offices — especially those attached to the presidency — are the first to suffer and the hardest hit. For instance, the Presidential Communications Development & Strategic Planning Office was an office created at the beginning of the Aquino administration. Through Executive Order No. 4, it was designed as a distinct, albeit redundant, office from the pre-existing Presidential Communications Operations Office.

However, the onset of a Duterte administration has heralded a substantial change in the structure of the executive branch, with the main goal of dissolving offices and officers with redundant functions. (Not to mention a secondary goal of making organization acronyms easier to remember.) As early as last mid-June, incoming Communications Secretary Martin Andanar made an announcement to this effect: that all presidential channels are to be subsumed under a single Presidential Communications Office, denoting the end of the PCDSPO.

At the end of their academically illustrious 6-year run, then, it seems fitting that some acknowledgment be made of the PCDSPO’s published accomplishments. Outside of specific circles, the titles above are not so well-known — and yet they reflect the rigour and dedication that the team led by Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III put, at least into the history and culture-related function of their office. Political biases and affiliations aside, if these were only publicized better, they would comprise a veritable mine of historical knowledge that is accessible and conveniently state-endorsed.

Apart from preparing these publications, the PCDSPO also endeavored to digitize its massive collections of primary sources — from audio clips to video material to photographs — and to make them available on the appropriate social media platforms under the handle GovPH. While the primary motive for doing so may have been governmental transparency as mandated by law, these already provide strong starting points for anyone wishing to undertake a politico-cultural study of the Philippines. The digital archives are most certainly helpful to any scholar, given that today’s trend in historiography leans towards non-documentary, non-traditional primary sources.

Under the leadership of Undersecretary Quezon and with other outlets like the Official Gazette, the Presidential Communications Development & Strategic Planning Office achieved what one Facebook user articulates aptly in the following comment:

In a country with a poverty of memory and a fatal neglect of the past, [the official presidential communications channels have] gone a long, long way in chronicling the life of our young Republic. What stood out more than the daily record of the administration are their efforts to archive and bring lost history to life…. Maraming salamat!

With all these in portfolio, a number of people are growing skeptical that future communications offices could match Aquino’s, if not in sensitivity and empathy then in efficiency and aesthetic. Of course, only time can tell otherwise.

Documentation in the country is a bothersome, often anachronistic process; then again, so are Philippine history, and Philippine historiography for that matter. Many thanks to the PCDSPO (2010-2016) for being a vanguard of all three!