Senator Ping Lacson reminds Salvador Panelo of his job as presidential mouthpiece

August 19, 2019 - 7:38 PM
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Ping Lacson-Interaksyon
Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson (Panfilo Lacson/Released)

Sen. Panfilo Lacson schooled Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on his role as spokesperson and chief legal counsel of the Philippines in their latest exchange on the influx of illegal Chinese workers in the country.

This exchange stemmed when Panelo publicized a text message from Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua suggesting China might view overseas Filipino workers there as spies.

Lacson then reacted via Twitter: “Presidential spokesperson or Chinese embassy spokesperson?”

Panelo took this negatively and responded that sharing Zhao’s text message was part of his job as it was related to concerns on the Philippine offshore gaming operators or POGOs and their Chinese workers.

“I take strong exception to the remarks of Senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson that I am speaking on behalf of the Chinese embassy when I shared to the media its ambassador’s reaction in connection with fears about the location of some Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs),” he said.

“As his spokesperson, I take it as my responsibility to inform the public because China’s stance may need to be considered in any policy or government action with respect to Chinese nationals working here,” he added.

Moreover, such message was also connected to the welfare of OFWs in China.

“Senator Lacson need not be reminded that as a Senator of the Republic, he represents not only Filipinos who live here but also those who work abroad, unless his statement is driven by the fact the OFW votes in China will not move a needle for him if he plans to run in 2022,” he added.

For Lacson, Panelo misunderstood that the matter was about his job as a presidential spokesperson.

“The issue is not about the welfare of our OFW’s or the Chinese ambassador’s statement in trying to defend his country’s position. It’s him taking on the job of the embassy’s spokesperson,” the senator said.

Zhao’s statement from Panelo was in reaction to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s earlier concern that the POGO hubs near military camps may be used for spying activities for China’s benefit.

Lorenzana cited POGO firms in Araneta Center and Eastwood deemed too close to the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Zhao warned that what if China thought of the same to OFWs in mainland China.

Lorenzana perceived this as absurd because unlike Chinese workers here, Filipinos overseas travel there for a specific purpose such as work.

“The OFWs go to China for specific work that’s legitimate there with Chinese visas,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who had been criticized for his softer stance on the West Philippine Sea row against China, does not worry about the locations of the hubs.

Duties of a spokesperson

Panelo’s job is basically to be the mouthpiece of Duterte on issues related to him or on state affairs.

The Official Gazette summarizes the job of the presidential spokesperson:

“The Office of the Presidential Spokesperson (OPS) forms part of the national government’s communications arm. The OPS Secretary and Undersecretary speak on behalf of the President and are the primary sources of information regarding current issues and concerns related to the President.”

Therefore, this does not include speaking on behalf of any other political figure, in this case, the Chinese embassy.

Moreover, he is also still Duterte’s chief presidential legal counsel, the position he held since he was appointed in 2016.

As the main duty of the chief presidential legal counsel, Panelo has “to provide legal advice to the President, review pertinent government contracts, and recommend policy actions on legal matters as may be directed by the President.”