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Commentary

Revival of OPS long overdue

/ 05:16 AM October 11, 2018

For those of us who were closely associated with the old Office of the Press Secretary (OPS), the plan of Malacañang to revive the OPS is a welcome development. In fact, it is long overdue.

After I resigned from the Manila Standard in the late 1990s, I joined the Presidential News Desk (PND), the news gathering and dissemination arm of the OPS, first as a writer and eventually as PND’s chief editor.

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By a strange twist of fate, my old mentor and editor in the Manila Standard, the late Rodolfo “Rod” Reyes, also became my first boss in the OPS, since he was the first press secretary of then President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

The PND was conceived by Francisco Tatad, who was the press secretary of Ferdinand Marcos during most of martial law. It used to be called the Central Desk.

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Reyes actually served as press secretary of President Fidel V. Ramos, but he resigned due to Palace intramurals. He returned to his old post when Estrada took over.

After the unceremonious ouster of Estrada and the ascendancy of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the late Noel Cabrera, a former editor of the Manila Chronicle, succeeded Reyes as press secretary. Cabrera later became ambassador until his early death. Those who followed Cabrera at the OPS under Arroyo were lawyer Ignacio Bunye, broadcast executive Milton Alingod, writer Rigoberto Tiglao and Cebu broadcaster Cerge Remonde.

I stayed on for almost seven years as PND chief editor during the time of Arroyo. I resigned before the end of her term to rejoin the private media.

I was saddened, if not extremely disappointed, when former president Benigno Aquino III, abolished the OPS through Executive Order No. 4. The OPS then metamorphosed into what is now known as the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO). Because its functions were never fully explained to the public, the PCDSPO was axed when the Duterte administration took over.

According to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Aquino abolished the OPS and created two brand-new offices to accommodate former members of the Aquino campaign media bureau, who obviously were promised top positions in the new administration.

But I believe this was not the main reason. Aquino’s scrapping the OPS was partly a manifestation of his pent-up anger against Arroyo. This anger was shown by the filing of string of graft charges against Arroyo which were all eventually dismissed by the high court, but not after Arroyo had languished for more than five years in hospital arrest.

By abolishing the OPS, Aquino, in effect, snuffed out decades of distinguished accomplishments by the agency. In the past, the OPS was headed by some of the country’s most respected journalists and media professionals.

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For example, during the term of President Cory Aquino, the press secretary was the late Teodoro Benigno, a prolific and multilingual writer and the first Filipino bureau chief of Agence France-Presse. Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr., a brilliant lawyer and Cory’s chief speechwriter, also became press secretary for some time.

Retired Supreme Court associate justice Adolfo Azcuna also served as Cory’s press secretary. The current editor in chief of the Manila Bulletin, Crispulo “Jun” Icban, was the last press secretary of Arroyo, after he was tapped when Remonde died of cardiac arrest.

The older generation may still recall Jose V. Cruz, more popularly known as J. V. Cruz, who was Ramon Magsaysay’s press secretary. A bon vivant but hard-hitting columnist of the old Manila Times, Cruz later became our ambassador to Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

OPS’ revival, if it pushes through, would restore the office to its former glory.

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Alito L. Malinao is the former news editor of the Manila Standard. He is on leave as journalism professor at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and is the author of the book “Journalism for Filipinos.”

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TAGS: Alito L. Malinao, Inquirer Commentary, Office of the Press Secretary, OPS, Presidential News Desk
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