MANILA, April 17, 2004
By Jose Rodel Clapano Sen. Vicente Sotto III denied yesterday he was meddling in the affairs of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) media bureau, which allegedly prompted 11 of its staff members to quit last Thursday.

Sotto denied the allegations, stressing his "distinct and separate" job as overall campaign manager for KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.

The opposition lawmaker even shot back at his accusers by advising them against "biting the hand that fed them."

"I don’t know these people. I do not see them. I do not deal with them and I certainly did not interfere with their work," Sotto said.

Another KNP stalwart, Sen. Edgardo Angara, denied there were resignations in the KNP media bureau.

Angara claimed he was not aware of any such resignations.

He hinted that the reports were cooked up by the administration to derail Poe’s candidacy. "I am belying this report (of resignations)," he said.

KNP media bureau chief Rodolfo Reyes had confirmed the resignations but stressed the move would not adversely affect their operations.

One of those who resigned said they decided to quit because of a "confluence of events," including the supposed meddling of Sotto.

The group also decided to call it quits because of overlapping functions with another media group headed by Poe’s spokesman, Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero.

Sotto denied the accusations yesterday, claiming the incident was "unfortunate."

"It is unfortunate that the five (senior staff members who led the resignation) who resigned (after finding) greener pastures even had to drag my name into this issue. I wish them well in their future endeavors. However, biting the hand that fed them will not endear them nor impress their new bosses," he said.

Sotto stressed he has no reason to interfere with the operations of the KNP media bureau.

He said Reyes and Escudero could attest that he was not meddling in the method of coverage on Poe’s campaign.

He claimed he had no expertise in handling media matters.

"I would never presume to take on such a responsibility," Sotto said.

All he knows, Sotto claimed, was those who tendered their resignation were already "under audit" by the KNP in evaluation of their performance.

Reyes earlier denied Sotto was encroaching on the bureau, pointing out that they have separate turfs. He also denied reports that the KNP media bureau was working in conflict with the FPJ media bureau.

Reyes, however, conceded the resignations were a loss to the KNP considering the experience and extensive contacts of those who resigned. Their resignation also left the KNP media bureau badly depleted with only nine staff members.

Among those who resigned were Bryan Yamsuan, Benjie Guevarra, Rowan Pagkalinawan, Dave Pahilga and Merlinda Manalo.

Guevarra and Yamsuan are veterans in handling media and electoral campaigns. Guevarra once headed the Presidential News Desk at Malacañang during the Estrada administration while Yamsuan was former chief of staff of Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta.

Manalo, for her part, was a veteran print reporter before joining the KNP media bureau.

The KNP issued a statement quoting Ed Araullo, a leader of a citizen’s group supporting Poe, that the resigned media bureau members accepted "a high-paying job" in the political campaign of Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza, who is seeking a third and last term in May.

This, however, was denied by the Atienza camp yesterday.

"That’s news to us. We never offered them a job, much less talk to them," said Atienza’s spokesman Armand Sebastian. "The campaign of Mayor Atienza and his ticket is doing fine."

Sebastian maintained they have nothing to do with the resignations.

"Whatever their reasons for leaving, only they would know. We don’t even know the motives of the group responsible for spreading this rumor. Perhaps it would be better to ask them or their superiors at the KNP," Sebastian said.

Araullo had said the KNP decided not to stand in the way of the personal welfare of the staffers whom he claimed were offered a "hefty" salary.

He said the resignations came at the time when the KNP media bureau is being reorganized. Consolidation

Following the resignations, newly designated KNP campaign manager Makati City Rep. Jejomar Binay said they are now integrating the operations of the three KNP media groups with a clear delineation of their functions.

"We are studying how to come out with a more efficient and effective campaign," Binay said. "We integrate the bureaus so that we will all be saying the same thing."

Journalists covering the KNP campaign noted that they are being fed information from two media groups within the KNP — one headed by Reyes and an FPJ media bureau headed by Escudero — aside from another media group.

The third group is Poe’s "communications group" headed by the actor’s personal chief of staff Susan Tagle.

Binay said all three groups — those headed by Reyes, Escudero and Tagle — will be reporting to one person, whom he declined to identify, citing "security reasons."

Binay downplayed the resignations in the KNP media bureau. "In any campaign, staff members come and go for different reasons. That is a fact," he said.

Members of Escudero’s media staff also contradicted overlapping of functions claimed by the 11 who resigned from the KNP media bureau.

"Whenever our tasks seem to overlap, we make it a point to coordinate. We never intruded in their work, like in shepherding the media even if we are there (at the sorties)," an Escudero staff member told The STAR.

The staff member pointed out that their primary function is simply to focus on the publicity of Poe. — With Paolo Romero, Nikko Dizon, Evelyn Macairan

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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