MANILA, JULY 17, 2010
(STAR) By Delon Porcalla - President Aquino ordered his Communications Group to be “interactive” and operate like the 21st century version of the information program of the late President Ramon Magsaysay in the 1950s.

“We are doing a 21st century version on that (interaction with the citizens) of former President Magsaysay,” Mr. Aquino said as he explained the function of the long-delayed Communications Group, which he reorganized from the previous Office of the Press Secretary (OPS).

Then president Magsaysay encouraged people to send him their complaints and concerns through telegram and Malacañang sent letters in response.

Mr. Aquino said that instead of using telegrams and letters, the current administration could use more advanced information technology such as text messaging through cellular telephones and social networking websites on the Internet, reaching more citizens and maximizing the promotion of government programs.

“The gist is, when it’s only the press secretary, we believe that it’s leading the press, period. But what I want is for communication to be interactive,” Mr. Aquino told reporters last Tuesday.

“The penetration of social networking sites is about 18-22 percent of Pinoys. I’m looking for the combination of all of that so governance will be more effective. So we have the press, interaction, production, messaging, we’ll use all of these,” he explained.

Mr. Aquino had appointed broadcast journalist Ricky Carandang and former Transportation undersecretary Herminio Coloma to head the Communications Group in a co-equal capacity, although their appointments, and their office’s executive order, have yet to be signed.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Assistant Press Secretary Rey Marfil have already been working from the time Mr. Aquino assumed office on June 30, despite the absence of their appointment papers.

Carandang, who used to be an anchor of the ABS-CBN News Channel, will be in charge of the “messaging” task, along with former columnist Manolo Quezon, while Coloma will be handling operational matters, like taking charge of government networks, among them NBN-4, RPN-9, IBC-13, Radyo ng Bayan and the Philippine Information Agency.

Mr. Aquino downplayed insinuations that the delay in the executive order for the new communications group is due to the infighting among the lobby groups in his administration, since Carandang and Quezon are allied with former Sen. Mar Roxas and Coloma is identified with the group of Vice President Jejomar Binay.

He said the group encompasses a wide political spectrum with different age brackets and various backgrounds .

“There are experts in new technology, and your premises come from your own background. We are not homogenous,” he stressed, noting that they still also have to take into consideration the feedback mechanism that he had conceptualized.

Lacierda told Palace reporters earlier that the President decided to reorganize the OPS to keep the department attuned with the times, especially now that the country is already in the technology era.

“The OPS is not designed to cover the 24/7 cycle of news. The old structure of the OPS is already outmoded. We fashioned the structure based on your needs. That’s why we need to rationalize everything. We made it so that it would be consistent with his vision,” he said.

Lacierda said the Communications Group would also address the concerns of citizens and receive complaints from popular social networking sites Twitter and Facebook.

“The messaging will be structured along that line,” he added.

He also downplayed the alleged dispute within the Aquino administration.

“There are no factions. We are one unified team. We are here to advance the advocacies of the President. We will see harmony and integration among the officials. They will explain the big picture later,” said Lacierda.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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