‘Camp out’. A group of migrant workers, many of whom have been living in tents in Saudi Arabia for the past several months, blasted as a “publicity stunt” President Aquino’s “camp out” in Bohol on Thursday night. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

MANILA, OCTOBER 28, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Sara Susanne D. Fabunan - 8 Filipino workers in Jeddah said on Friday that President Benigno Aquino III’s “one-night stint in a tent” in Bohol was nothing but an “obvious PR stint to uplift his deteriorating public image”.

In a statement, Friday, the Migrante International said that the Filipino workers who had been camping out at the Jeddah Tent City for the past eight months are not impressed with Aquino’s overnight visit to the victims of the earthquake that wrought havoc in the province of Bohol.

“For our stranded OFWs in Saudi and OFWs in distress, President Aquino’s spending the night in a tent is nothing but an obvious PR stint aimed to uplift his deteriorating public image following developments in the pork barrel scam and the government’s slow response after the Bohol earthquake,” Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said.

“He wants a real camp-out experience? Try surviving for months on end without sufficient food, water and medical assistance at the Jeddah Tent City,” Martinez said.

As this developed, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma confirmed that Aquino ordered him to preside over a noontime media briefing in Malacanang.

This was a departure from a previous system wherein presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and his deputy Abigail Valte conduct press briefings.

“All of our actions are in accordance with the President’s guidance and direction. We work together in endeavoring to communicate to our people the President’s key programs and messages in the most effective manner,” Coloma said in a statement.

Based on the Palace’s revised schedule, Coloma would preside over media briefings every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday; Lacierda is scheduled every Monday and Wednesday; while Valte takes over every Friday and Saturday.

On Thursday, Coloma denied that he was taking over the job of Lacierda, and added that he was tapped to assist the Communication Group to relay to the people Aquino’s programs and messages in the “most effective manner”.

Coloma’s statement was in contrast to Valte’s claim on Friday that Coloma “volunteered to at least go on rotation or to do alternate briefings” with the Malacanang reporters.

“Actually it was not the President. In fact, when Secretary Sonny [Coloma] texted us and volunteered to go on rotation, we told the President ‘sir, nag-volunteer si Sec. Sonny’ and he said ‘Okay. At least, you know, you have time off’. That’s what the President said,” Valte said.

But Coloma rejected Valte’s claim and said that he had discussed with Lacierda and Valte about Aquino’s true marching orders.

Members of the Malacañang Press Corps had complained of several instances about the lack of immediate, and substantial, responses from the Palace on issues confronting the Aquino administration on a daily basis.

Senator Joker Arroyo had even criticized Lacierda over his supposed laziness as spokesman.

“Part of the problem in Malacañang is the indolence of its spokespersons. They play things by ear and pass them off as facts,” Arroyo said.

Meanwhile, Martinez said that some 1,700 OFWs remained stranded in Jeddah, while thousands more are scattered in Riyadh, Al Khobar and Dammam, barely two weeks before the Saudi government implements a crackdown on illegal foreign workers in its country on November 3.

Martinez expressed fears that the Philippine government may not be able to repatriate all OFWs in Saudi before the November 3 deadline.

Since the Tent City situation broke out last March, six OFWs and at least two children have died, Martinez claimed.

The group said that the slow repatriation, lack of supplies and medical assistance and the absence of immediate financial assistance to OFWs who had returned from Saudi had been attributed to the Philippine government’s lack of funds.

“And then we will later find out the billion of billions of funds of the people are being pocketed by other officials and trillions of trillions of funds are being controlled by the President. The OFWs and their families are outraged,” he said.

“We have already called for the resignation and recall of negligent embassy and labor officials in Saudi. Should anything untoward happen to the stranded OFWs when the crackdowns resume, we will not hesitate to call on the resignation of Aquino himself,” Martinez added.

The DFA had said that it had sent more than 4,000 OFWs home before the Saudi government implements the crackwown against illegal foreign workers.

The DFA said that there are now only 1,716 undocumented Filipinos in Saudi who are awaiting repatriation.

The original deadline for correcting the status of illegal workers in Saudi Arabia was July 3, but the Saudi government heeded the request of affected countries and extended the grace period given to illegal workers to November 3.


Noy wants Coloma as Palace lead spokesman By Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 26, 2013 - 12:00am 4 18 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino wants Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office to be his lead spokesman.

A reliable source told The STAR yesterday that Aquino told Secretaries Edwin Lacierda, Ricky Carandang and Undersecretary Abigail Valte during a meeting last week that Coloma would be taking over.

“He just told them (Lacierda et al) that from now on, Secretary Sonny will be the lead (spokesman),” the unimpeachable source said.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Valte denied that Aquino had ordered a new setup in the Presidential Communications Group, concurring with Lacierda that it was Coloma who asked that he be accommodated as an alternate to their daily tasks.

“Actually, it was not the President,” she said.

“In fact, when Secretary Sonny texted us and volunteered to go on rotation. We told the President: ‘Sir, Secretary Sonny volunteered. And he said okay, at least you have time off.’”

Her boss, Lacierda, said the same thing, texting Palace reporters that it was “Coloma (who) asked if he can do alternate briefings” to which they agreed, “since we’ve been doing this for more than three years.”

Coloma said: “I confirm that I initiated discussions with Secretary Lacierda and Undersecretary Valte regarding the schedule of press briefings and my participation in such briefings.

“All of our actions are in accordance with the President’s guidance and direction. We work together in endeavoring to communicate to our people the President’s key programs and messages in the most effective manner. We are just one communications team of the President, and I form part of that group.”

He and his colleagues have agreed that he can now join the regular briefings for the media, Coloma said.

Another source said Aquino was particularly piqued at how Lacierda picked a word war with former senator Joker Arroyo, who called for the abolition of the Disbursement Acceleration Program.

Lacierda and Valte expressed appreciation for Coloma’s offer to help, as this would allow them to focus on their other tasks apart from holding daily briefings for the Malacañang Press Corps.

“We appreciate very much that Secretary Sonny has volunteered to at least go on rotation or to do alternate briefings because the responsibility is very heavy, where he can at least share the responsibilities also with us,” Valte said.

‘NOY: My administration not calloused’ By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 26, 2013 - 12:00am 0 3 googleplus0 1

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino maintains that his administration is not “calloused” and will continue to be proactive in addressing the needs of Filipinos, especially those affected by calamities.

Aquino made this statement on various occasions when he visited Bohol, which was devastated by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake, on Wednesday and Thursday.

The President said that from distributing relief goods to ensuring the safety of homes and offering flexible terms for housing loans, his administration would not just do things automatically but with care for the people.

“I suppose, especially this government, is not calloused, isn’t it? It is not insensitive,” Aquino said.

He also promised that his government and officials would not be part of the problem but rather provide solutions to alleviate the plight of those affected by the quake.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. also said during the awarding ceremony for the Outstanding Public Officials and Employees for 2013 last Thursday in Malacañang that Aquino himself is leading public servants in showing concern, especially to those affected by calamities.

Ochoa said that in this way, no public servants could give excuses because the President himself would know the situation on the ground even if various government agencies have responded for rescue, disaster, relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Currently, he said, about 3,300 civil servants are attending to the needs of the people of Bohol.

He added, however, that “in a country that is hit by natural calamities on a yearly basis, where 20 or so typhoons wreak havoc to our capital and the countryside, it is easy to take for granted that on a regular basis, thousands of government employees risk life and limb to help Filipinos trapped in floods and high-risk areas.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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