Evolution of Presidential Communications

Three themes have waxed and waned with regards to the evolution of the Presidential Communications Group. They are: public relations, information, and communications.

The New Executive Building in Malacañan Palace, which houses the communications offices of the President.
The New Executive Building in Malacañan Palace, which houses the presidential communications offices.

The President of the Philippines has always been considered “communicator-in-chief”–all authority in matters of communication stems from the president, who often delivers speeches or issues statements, which carry the weight of government policy. However, from the Quezon administration onwards, presidential communications has been supported by presidential staff, often organized into teams. Since the time of the first Executive Secretary, Jorge B. Vargas who used to give daily press briefings, the Executive Secretary has often played a combined role of spokesman and de facto press secretary. As well as exercising supervision, in a delegated capacity, of presidential communications.

Other officials are often drafted into communications duties (see J. Eduardo Malaya & Jonathan E. Malaya, …So Help Us God: The Presidents of the Philippines and Their Inaugural Addresses, Anvil Publishing, 2004). Under the pre-war Quezon administration Justice Secretary Jose Abad Santos served as the principal ghostwriter for the President while Carlos P. Romulo as editor-in-chief of the DMHMM media chain served as principal disseminator of government messages. Aside from Public Relations/Press secretaries, Presidents Osmeña, Roxas and Quirino also had their Executive Secretaries (Jose Reyes for Osmeña, Rufino Hechanova for Macapagal, for example).

Presidents have also used private (Juan Collas for Quirino) and legislative secretaries, as well as other cabinet members (Blas Ople for Marcos), undersecretaries of departments (Raul Manglapus for Magsaysay) and diplomats (Leon Ma. Guerrero for Magsaysay) and journalists (Carlos P. Romulo for Quezon, Federico Mangahas for Roxas and Quirino, Vicente Albano Pacis for Macapagal, Adrian Cristobal for Marcos) crafting their messages. Presidents Quezon, Osmeña, and Roxas also had foreigners assisting with public relations, David Bernstein and Julius Edelstein respectively, handling public relations.

President Elpidio Quirino was the first chief executive to formalize communications functions in a team, by establishing the Philippine Information Council.

During the Marcos administration, aside from a Press Secretary/Information Minister, the head of the National Media Production Board and the head of the President’s Center for Strategic Studies were integral parts of the administration’s communications team.

President Corazon Aquino had a Press Secretary but also had a Spokesman and head speechwriter who maintained an office in the Premier Guest House until the end of her term.

In some cases, primary communication functions were determined, not by the Press Secretary, but other officials. During the Ramos administration, National Security Adviser Jose Almonte was principally in charge of the president’s messaging, over and above the Press Secretary.

In the post-EDSA years, three officials–the Press Secretary, the Presidential Spokesperson, and the Executive Secretary–have been the public faces of presidential communications, with the Executive Secretary and the Head of the Presidential Management Staff often playing significant roles, whether in public or behind the scenes, in addition to various communications advisers.

As a unit of the Office of the President of the Philippines, however, the sections charged with media relations have a long history.

The Executive Secretary as Communicator

Since the modern executive office was established in 1935, press and media relations have been an integral part of the chief executive’s office.

Prior to World War II, communicating the executive department’s messages to the press was undertaken by the first Executive Secretary, Jorge B. Vargas, who held meetings with the press twice a day: shortly before noon, and again at six in the evening. He was assisted by a Press Relations and Educational Division headed by Luis Serrano in the Office of the President of the Philippines. President Manuel L. Quezon himself gave press conferences twice a week.

The Era of Public Relations

However, it wasn’t until wartime conditions necessitated the adoption of a full-time public relations policy, that a cabinet portfolio focused on media relations was established.

In the Commonwealth Government-in-Exile, lobbying and public relations were originally undertaken by the Office of Special Services. This was created by virtue of Executive Order 5-W, dated October 11, 1942. This sub-cabinet office employed public relations consultants for the purpose of collecting, collating, organizing, and disseminating information about the Philippines and the government, particularly for the purposes of the war effort.

The efforts of the Commonwealth Government-in-Exile shifting to securing war rehabilitation led to the first executive definition of a cabinet-level portfolio, by virtue of Executive Order 8-W on October 1, 1943. Carlos P. Romulo was appointed Secretary of Information and Public Relations in the War Cabinet of President Manuel L. Quezon. On August 8, 1944, President Sergio Osmeña issued Executive Order 15-W reorganizing and consolidating the Executive Departments of the Commonwealth government’s War Cabinet. Romulo continued to hold the same portfolio in a concurrent capacity, together with his being made Resident Commissioner to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Upon the restoration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines’ authority in the country, Executive Order No. 27, dated February 27, 1945 further reorganized the cabinet. The portfolios of Public Instruction (today’s Department of Education) and Information and Public Relations were combined into the portfolio of Public Instruction and Information, to which Francisco Benitez was appointed. Shortly thereafter, with the end of the war, the Information aspect was dropped, Benitez reverting to being Secretary of Public Instruction.

President Manuel Roxas established the position of Secretary of Public Relations, first held by Juan Orendain, by means of a provision in Republic Act No. 80, the General Appropriations Act for 1946-1947. The Department of Public Relations took over the publicity work that had been done by the Department of Instruction and Information. In 1948, the name of this office became the Office of Public Information. This setup was retained by President Elpidio Quirino during his administration. He, however, added the position of Press Secretary within the Private Office: the Press Secretary “serves as the presidential spokesman and his functions include issuing press releases and statements for the President and other related matters.”

President Manuel Roxas was the first president to hold a press conference broadcast over the radio. President Elpidio Quirino also broadcast weekly “Fireside Chats” over the radio.

President Elpidio Quirino was also the first chief executive to take a communications group approach. Executive Order No. 348 issued on September 29, 1950, established the Philippine Information Service. Composed of a seven-person board, of whom the Press Secretary was an ex-officio member. The Philippine Information Board in turn determined the policies, plans, rules and regulations of the Philippine Information Service, headed by a Director of Public Information. The Board was also authorized to be integrated into the Philippine Information Service “the public information and publicity services of all Departments, agencies and instrumentalities of the government, including those of the government-owned or controlled corporations,” and to reorganize these if necessary. By virtue of Executive Order No. 371, dated November 20, 1950, the name of the Philippine Information Service was changed to the Philippine Information Council.

President Quirino was also the first president to appear on television, when the first television broadcast was made on October 23, 1953, featuring a garden party at the residence of Judge Antonio Quirino, owner of DZAQ Channel 3, the first TV station in the Philippines.

The Press Office Era

President Ramon Magsaysay formally discontinued the practice of having a Secretary for Public Relations. Instead, by means of Executive Order No. 155, dated January 6, 1956, he conferred cabinet rank upon the Press Secretary. This portfolio was first held by JV Cruz. The Magsaysay administration also established the National Media Production Center in 1954, “for delivery of different media of mass communications, such as press releases, handbills, pamphlets, posters, motion pictures, film-strips, etc., and for motion picture and photo essay coverage of different projects of the government.” This effectively superseded the Philippine Information Council established by President Quirino.

The position of Press Secretary would be retained in the administrations of presidents Carlos P. Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, and Ferdinand E. Marcos.

President Ferdinand E. Marcos in his second administration (1969-1972) downgraded previously-powerful portfolios either abolishing them or downgrading them to sub-cabinet rank: the position of Press Secretary Francisco Tatad became sub-cabinet level in 1970 by virtue of Executive Order No. 208, dated February 9, 1970. However, Executive Order No. 376, dated February 18, 1972, restored cabinet rank to the Press Secretary.

The Era of Public Information

With the imposition of martial law on September 23, 1972, President Marcos created the cabinet portfolio of Secretary of Public Information, with the appointment of Francisco Tatad. The Department of Public Information was established by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 1 (funded by means of Letter of Implementation No. 12), which established the Presidential Press Office, the Bureau of National and Foreign Information, the Bureau of Broadcast, the Bureau of Standards for Mass Media, the Bureau of Research, an Evaluation and Special Operations division. The position of Press Secretary was explicitly stated as separate and distinct from the head of the Public Information Office.

At the same time, martial law (see General Order No. 2-A and Letter of Instruction No. 1) meant all private media was placed under military control, subsequently modified by placing media under the control of the Mass Media Council (Presidential Decree No. 36, November 2, 1972, violations of which were to be exclusively tried by military tribunals under General Order No. 12-C then the Media Advisory Council (Presidential Decree No. 191, May 11, 1973), and then dividing its functions by setting up the Print Media Council and Broadcast Media Council by means of Presidential Decree No. 576, November 9, 1974; state media was placed under the control of the National Media Production Center.

Upon the formal lifting of martial law on January 17, 1981, the print and media councils were abolished. Under the semi-parliamentary system established in 1978, the secretary of information position had become a ministerial portfolio (Minister of Public Information, held by Francisco Tatad until 1980 then in a concurrent capacity by Gregorio Cendaña in his capacity as director of the National Media Production Center).

The EDSA Revolution led to the adoption of the 1986 Freedom Constitution which conferred both legislative and executive powers on President Corazon C. Aquino. The position of Minister of Public Information, held by Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. was abolished on September 14, 1987.

The Modern Press Secretary Era

President Corazon Aquino at first had two officials in charge of presidential messaging: she established the position of Presidential Spokesman, assumed by Rene Saguisag and appointed Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. as Minister of Information on February 25, 1986. The cabinet position of Press Secretary was reestablished by virtue of Memorandum Order No. 32, September 1, 1986 and Executive Order No. 92, December 17, 1986, “to ensure that the government’s point of view is communicated to the public especially on issues affecting the nation’s welfare”. Executive Order No. 100, December 24, 1986 reorganized the National Media Production Center as the Philippine Information Agency.

On February 2, 1987, the present Constitution was ratified and with the convening of Congress in June, 1987,President Aquino lost her lawmaking powers. Executive Order No. 297 reorganized the Office of the Press Secretary on July 25, 1987. Together with the appointment of Teodoro Benigno Jr. as Press Secretary, this essentially established the Office of the Press Secretary and its subordinate agencies as we know it today. These changes were made by virtue of the regular powers of the presidency.

Prior to martial law, presidents did not submit their public relations, information, or press secretaries for congressional confirmation. In 1987, with the restoration of Congress, President Corazon C. Aquino, despite not having to do so, submitted her appointment to the position of Press Secretary to the Commission on Appointments for confirmation. All her successors have continued this tradition. However, the Presidential Spokesman has never been subject to congressional confirmation.

President Aquino’s successors modified the information agencies of the Executive Department from time to time. President Ramos restructured the Office of the Press Secretary on January 15, 1996 with Executive Order No. 293. President Joseph Ejercito Estrada for his part, abolished the position of Presidential Spokesperson and transferred its functions to the Press Secretary (Mike Toledo) by means of Memorandum Order No. 97, dated April 24, 2000. However the position of Presidential Spokesperson was restored in the next administration.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo established the Office of the Communications Director by virtue of Executive Order 348, August 11, 2004 and appointed Silvestre Afable to the position. This executive order also assigned the functions of the Press Secretary to the Presidential Spokesperson and transferred the National Printing Office and APO Production Unit to the Philippine Information Agency.

Executive Order No. 511 dated March 6, 2006 created the Communications Group, which transferred the powers of the Communications Director to the Press Secretary, while the Chairman of the Communications Group was assigned supervision of the Philippine Information Agency. The Director-General of the Philippine Information Agency was raised to cabinet rank as well. Executive Order No. 576, November 7, 2006 abolished the Government Mass Media Group, assigning its functions and powers to the Press Secretary, and maintained cabinet rank for the PIA Director-General.

At one point in the Arroyo administration, the number was increased to four.

Before Executive Order No. 4 was signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III on July 30, 2010, presidential communications were handled by three cabinet-level officials: the Press Secretary, the Presidential Spokesperson, and the Director-General of the Philippine Information Agency.

Executive Order No. 4 establishes a communications system as follows:

PCDSPO (Messaging) PCOO (Dissemination)
Coordinates the crafting, formulation, development and enhancement of the messaging system under the Office of the President of the Philippines Develops and implements necessary guidelines and mechanisms pertaining to the delivery and dissemination of information relating to the policies, programs, official activities and achievements of the President and the Executive Branch
Designs and recommends responses to issues that arise on a daily basis Develops, manages, and operates viable government-owned or controlled information dissemination structures/facilities to provide the Office of the President of the Philippines in particular, and the Executive Branch in general, access to the people as an alternative to private mass media entities
Ensures consistency in the messages issued by the
Executive Department
Sets up and maintains domestic and international field offices, where necessary, to ensure that accurate information from the President of the Philippines and the Executive Branch is promptly and efficiently relayed, delivered, and disseminated to intended target audiences
Assists in the formulation and implementation of New Media strategies for the Office of the President of the Philippines Manages, controls, and supervises as may be necessary, the various government agencies and offices involved in information gathering and dissemination
Assists in research and development of New Media instruments Coordinates and cultivates relations with private media
Liasons with the Malacañang Records Office Manages and administers the OP website and Web Development Office
Controls and supervises the conduct of market research, the monitoring of public opinion, and the gathering, use and analysis of relevant data as may be necessary Such other functions as the President of the Philippines may assign from time to time.
Formulates the editorial guidelines and policies for state media
Ensures consistency in the implementation of the corporate identity of the Executive Department
Acts as custodian of the institutional memory of the Office of the President of the Philippines
Performs editorial functions for the Official Gazette
Such other functions as may be assigned by the President of the Philippines
Management: Head of PCDSPO, Deputy Head, a Chief of Staff, an Assistant Secretary for Messaging, an Electronic Data Processing Division Chief Management: Head of PCOO, Undersecretary for Media Operations, Undersecretary for Special Concerns, a Chief of Staff, an Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs; an Electronic Data Processing Division Chief
Agencies: Agencies:
Presidential Message Staff News and Information Bureau
OP Correspondence Office Philippine News Agency
Media Research and Development Staff Philippine Information Agency
Presidential Museum and Library IBC 13
Official Gazette RPN 9
Speech Writers Group NBN 4
Bureau of Broadcast Services
Bureau of Communications Services
National Printing Office
APO Production Unit
OP Web Development Office

Legal Basis for the Reorganization

Article VII, Section 17, 1987 Constitution: “The President shall have control of all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices. He shall ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Section 31, Administrative Code of 1987: “The President, subject to the policy in the Executive Office and in order to achieve simplicity, economy, and efficiency, shall have the continuing authority to reorganize the administrative structure of the Office of the President.”

Most recently in G.R. No. 166620, the Supreme Court en banc on April 20, 2010, reiterated the chief executive’s power to reorganize the executive department.

Why the executive communications institutions needed to be reformed

The Office of the Press Secretary as it existed prior to July 30, 2010 was essentially stuck in a time warp, mainly due to its approach to communications that involves the only media current in the 1950’s – newspapers and radio, and to a certain extent, television. With the rapid evolution of communications due to the influx of digital technology, the agenda, policies and activities of the government ought to be distributed to the people through other avenues such as new media.  However, the traditional orientation of the Office of the Press Secretary made it institutionally ill-equipped to seriously consider the rapidly-changing information landscape.

For the government’s message to reach the public, a different approach must be taken where the form of the organization follows its functions. There are two aspects to communications, just as in media: or messaging and dissemination. The former,  (which itself has two aspects, editorial and reportorial) deals with the government’s official stand, position, analysis of issues and the actual messaging, and the reportorial, which essentially revolves around heavy interaction with the traditional media and the public  to ensure not only  that the message is conveyed, but that the administration engages the many publics it serves, in a mutually-helpful conversation.

The concept of a continuing conversation is a hallmark of the New Media era, and a significant reform of official channels of the government means they must be employed not just to talk to the media but to the public in general in order to convey and properly explain the government’s agenda, as well as to engage both media and the public in a conversation on the reforms and policies of the administration.

It is with this rationale that the new structure was formulated.

The President’s communications reforms

On July 30, 2010, President Benigno S. Aquino III signed Executive Order No. 4, renaming the Office of the Press Secretary and redefining its functions, as well as establishing an office for messaging and strategic planning. This is based on a functional approach to the modern communications needs of the presidency.

In recent years the White House model has increasingly been studied. The White House has three offices tasked with various aspects of official messaging.

Under this system, a Communications Director (position established in 1969) is in charge of official messaging while the Press Secretary handles the press on a day-to-day basis. These offices also work together with the Office of Public Engagement.

At present, the White House Communications Director (formally known as the Assistant to the President for Communications) presides over a group composed of eleven officials: the Special Consultant to the President for Media Affairs; the Deputy Director of Communications; the Director of Speechwriting; the Director of New Media; Director of Media Affairs; Director of Broadcast Media; Director of Specialty Media; Director of Hispanic Media; Director of Citizen Participation; and a Director of African American Media.

There is also the oldest of the communications offices, the Office of the Press Secretary, established in 1929, who has two deputy press secretaries and four Assistant Press Secretaries.

In addition, there are the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs (originally established in 1974), composed of a Senior Adviser and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Engagement: under this official are the Office of Public Engagement, with two Deputy Directors, an Associate Director for Youth Affairs, and a separate Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, with a Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, two Deputy Directors, three Associate Directors, and two Staff Assistants.

The armed forces of the United States also maintain the White House Communications Agency which handles communications logistics and security in the White House and wherever the President, Vice President and senior White House Staff require it.

The objectives of the President’s communications team

Attention must be made to both the form and substance of all official communications and messaging in view of the media and public’s skepticism towards official communications and messages over the past decade.

There has been excessive partisanship in the use of government media assets as well as a corrosive focus on appointments made for the purpose of demonizing critics of the government without clarifying issues or adhering to established norms of official transparency, accountability, and attention to the credibility of official facts and figures. This situation was something that requiring reform.

The mass media and public have developed a respect for President-elect Aquino sas courteous, considerate, and accessible to the media. At the same time, the Aquino-Roxas campaign remained fairly disciplined in terms of messaging, and avoided a confusing multiplicity of talking heads. It provided both supporters and the broader public (including media) with timely information.

Information as a basic right and recognized obligation of the state to media and the public, builds the goodwill required to undertake reforms and institute good governance. There are many existing institutional means to do this, provided the state’s media assets are professionally run and not used for patently partisan purposes or for rewarding or coddling individuals of dubious public credibility. Most noteworthy would be, aside from RTVM and PTV4, a revitalized and relevant Official Gazette.

At the same time, the campaign’s innovative track record in New Media should be made an integral part of the new administration’s communications structure. This is of particular strategic importance in terms of secure and efficient internal communications and dissemination of messages and information to media and the public at large.

These characteristics should remain the hallmark of the new administration, particularly as innuendo and rumor have proven the weapons of choice of the many anti-reform forces arrayed against the reforms constituency led by the President.

The President’s communications officials are the following, collectively known as the Communications Group.

The Presidential Spokesperson

The Presidential Spokesman speaks in behalf of the President on matters of public interest, among other things. Considering the restricted level of access that media has to the Chief Executive, the Spokesman is expected to be the primary source of presidential directives in the absence of the President of the Philippines.

The PCDSPO Head 

As the government’s voice and vision must be clear, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Head ensures that all aspects of communications are covered to ensure that the administration’s message has been delivered successfully. This includes market research and polling. He devises the communications strategy to promote the President’s agenda throughout all media and among the many publics with which the administration interacts. This can include, but certainly are not limited to, the State of the Nation address, televised press conferences, statements to the press, and radio addresses. The communications office also works closely with cabinet level departments and other executive agencies in order to create a coherent strategy through which the President’s message can be disseminated.

The Deputy PCDSPO Head

The deputy of the PCDSPO Head has been assigned specific responsibilities and functions as well. The Director of Strategic Planning formulates the editorial guidelines and policies for state media in line with the Executive’s Communications Plan. He ensures consistency in the implementation of the corporate identity of the Executive Department. He is the custodian of the institutional memory of the Office of the President. He is also editor-in-chief of the Official Gazette. The Official Gazette is the journal of record of the Republic of the Philippines, edited by the Office of the President of the Philippines by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 638. In addition, he is tasked with administering the New Media responsibilities of the PCDSPO.

The PCOO Head

The Presidential Communications Operation Office (PCOO) Head is in charge of disseminating the government’s message to private media entities. He also exercises supervision and control over state-owned media entities to ensure the proper and effective dissemination of the official messages in accordance with the Communications Plan. The Media Head is also responsible for the accreditation and authentication of the credentials of foreign media correspondents, in line with his primary task to cultivate relations and provide the necessary assistance to private media entities.

Presidential Communications Explained



A – The President, as communicator-in-chief, is the ultimate source of policy, directives and messages of the government.

B – Aiding the President in crafting and fleshing out the messaging of government are the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) and the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson (OPS).

C – PCDSPO ensures that the voice and vision of government are clear. This is done through crafting the messages of government and the President, administering the official government portal, and the standardization of government correspondence and published works.

D – The Presidential Spokesperson whose principal is the President of the Philippines, speaks in behalf of the President and is the primary source of information regarding current issues and concerns with respect to the President. The OPS regularly engages the Malacañang Press Corps, the media in general, and the public, especially for issues that arise on a daily basis.

E – One of PCDSPO’s new-media innovations is the revival and enhancement of the Official Gazette, the journal of record and government portal of the Republic of the Philippines. Both PCDSPO and OPS share the Official Gazette as a platform from which their messages are published online.

F – The messaging from PCDSPO and OPS is disseminated through the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO). PCOO administers state-run media outfits and government news agencies.