Every new administration faces the daunting task of effectively communicating its policies, programs and projects to the whole nation as well as to the outside world.
This responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), the latest incarnation of what has essentially functioned as the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) under various administrations.
In fact, what is now the PCO started as the Office of the Press Secretary when the Marcos Jr. administration assumed office on June 30 last year.
A recent reorganization not only renamed the OPS but will also streamline the over-all communications structure of the national government to better reach out to the people.
At the helm of the PCO is Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil, whose interim appointment was confirmed last Wednesday (March 15) by the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA).
After her confirmation, Garafil, who is a lawyer, issued a brief statement: “I am honored and humbled by the show of support for my confirmation as PCO Secretary. Special thanks to the members of the Commission on Appointments for their vote of confidence.
“It is truly an honor. Also a profound expression of gratitude to my former colleagues, and now partners in media for their kind words.
“Tunay kayong inspirasyon upang mas lalo ko pang pagbutihin ang aking sinumpaang tungkulin. At sa ating mahal na Pangulo, Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., maraming salamat sa napakalaking karangalan na makapaglingkod sa inyo at kasama niyo para sa sambayanang Pilipino.”
Garafil completed a Communication Arts course in 1992 from the University of Santo Tomas, where she obtained a law degree four years later.
She also holds a Masters in National Security Administration degree from the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP). She is a Philippine Air Force reservist, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Before joining government, Garafil was a journalist who wrote for several broadsheets, including Malaya and the Philippine Daily Globe, covering various beats, including the Commission on Elections and the health sector.
For a time, she also worked for the Taiwan-based China News Agency (CNA.)
Her work experience outside of journalism includes stints as Director of the Committee on Rules of the House of Representatives, prosecutor at the Department of Justice (DOJ), and state solicitor at the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
Prior to her appointment as interim Press Secretary in October last year, Atty. Garafil was designated to head the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in July.
There she hit the ground running, holding dialogues and consultations with various public transportation groups—buses, jeepneys, UV Express, Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS)— to ask them what their problems were and how the agency could help them render better services to the riding public.
That brief stint at the LTFRB served her in good stead recently when she helped broker talks between the government and two jeepney drivers’ groups that had planned to hold a week-long transport strike in protest against the proposed traditional jeepney phaseout.
If the week-long strike had gone on as planned, that would have certainly paralyzed public transportation and adversely affected the economy that was just beginning to recover from lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the first day of the jeepney strike, she initiated a dialogue with the leaders of the two jeepney drivers’ groups and managed to convince them to call off their protest action after the first day, thus averting what could have been a full-blown mass transportation crisis that would have unduly tarnished the image of the fledgling administration.
But even before this, Secretary Garafil had already proven her capability to lead the PCO when she joined the various foreign trips of the President from October to February.
Under her direction, the PCO facilitated access by local media to Philippine participation in the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh; APEC Summits in Bangkok; EU-ASEAN Dialogue in Brussels; and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as well as the visits of the Chief Executive to China and Japan.
With the active support of the PCO, local media were able get timely and accurate information on the President’s efforts to drum up support from the international community for the country’s economic development programs by encouraging them to commit to invest in various economic sectors in the country.
Thus far, these foreign trips have drawn investment pledges amounting to billions of dollars from foreign businessmen that would translate to more jobs for our labor force.
The challenge before the PCO with Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil at the helm is to bring the government closer to the people to such an extent that they directly take an active role in attaining political stability, sustained economic growth and social harmony.
This is what the whole-of-society approach to development seeks to achieve, and the PCO will most certainly be at the forefront of this effort in the years ahead.