The State and Practice of Investigative Journalism in the Philippines

(Delivered at “An Eye for I: The State and Practice of Investigative Reporting in the Philippines,” a forum organized by the UP Department of Journalism and the UP Communicators for Good Governance and held Dec. 5, 2007 at the College of Mass Communications Auditorium, University of the Philippines)

How best describe the state and practice of investigative journalism in the Philippines?

This is a question for which there are no easy and clear answers. It is a lot easier to try to answer the question of where those who disappear in the Bermuda Triangle end up, or of what happened before the Big Bang.

This is because the very mention of the term “investigative journalism” summons a whole wealth of other thoughts or observations.

First things first: just what in the world is investigative journalism?

The Collin-COBUILD Dictionary of the English Language defines investigation thus: “If you investigate an event or situation, you examine all the details, in order to find out what has happened or is happening.”

This is certainly the method which anyone who can be called an investigative journalist uses to come up with those in-depth reports that are characteristic of the branch of journalism they chose to specialize in.

But with that, should not all journalism, in thrust if not in methodology, be investigative — since the task of any journalist at any time and place is to ferret out and expose the truth about what is happening in the world, that people may be accordingly guided to respond to the challenges of the times? The existence anywhere of a journalistic category described as “investigative” (as distinct from the other branches of journalism) thus sheds light not only on the state of investigative journalism, but on the state of journalism itself.

Jaime B. Ramirez, author of the Philippine Journalism Handbook among other works, defines investigative reporting as “the disclosure of information that is of public value where the subjects would prefer not to be disclosed.” He further observes that

Every reporter should be an investigative reporter — by his or her own instincts and by leave of the publisher. If a reporter is on the trail of a good story, the necessary time should be made available. A serious commitment to investigative reporting is one of the best investments a publisher can make. This will surely and simultaneously benefit a newspaper’s prestige and its readers’ interest as well…

With that, how fares investigative journalism in the Philippines, and how has it been practiced here thus far?

The reports of the PCIJ do not always get to be published in all of the major periodicals. On the small screen, investigative programs like I-Witness, Reporter’s Notebook, and The Correspondents are usually shown in the most ungodly hours, when for the most part the nation is in such deep sleep that a comet could pass by largely unnoticed.

And yet investigative reports always have considerable impact in the country’s public discourse. Though not everyone gets to read investigative articles or view episodes of investigative programs, the revelations made and the questions raised by these get talked about for days — sometimes weeks — on end.

Take for instance the ruckus provoked by PCIJ’s exposes on former President Joseph Estrada’s “Boracay Mansions”, or Bernadette Sembrano’s report on Pagcor chief Ephraim Genuino’s unexplained assets.

The same goes for other publications or outlets in the Philippines that have been identified as placing emphasis on investigative journalism — like Newsbreak or, I could say, the publication I write for — the online magazine Bulatlat.

That investigative journalism exerts such impact on the Philippines, even with its limited exposure here, takes us to one of the glaring characteristics of what poet and literary scholar Gelacio Guillermo has called “our basket case of a society”: that this is a society with a whole universe of secrets waiting — nay, clamoring — to be revealed. It is a society where there are a few who wield vast power — both in the public sphere and in the private sector — who use this power to perpetrate excesses and with the resources at their command strive mightily to keep these from the knowledge of the people.

In any such society, there will always be a considerable portion of the reading and viewing public eager to read or view in-depth reports on the latest scams and scandals, and an even bigger public discussing the contents of these with prolonged interest.

Former UP Mass Communication Dean Luis V. Teodoro describes thus the importance of investigative journalism in the Philippines:

The investigative report is the most logical form for the need to demonstrate and document in all its painstaking detail and sordidness the political and social realities that still define Filipino existence today, towards the historic end of arming the people with the consciousness that will mobilize them. It is also the one form that can repudiate the martial law legacy of secrecy that still haunts us all. Of all the journalistic forms it is the investigative report — with its demand for consummate research and precise attribution — that lends itself to the deepening of public understanding of the way the political, economic and social systems work for the benefit of a handful and to the detriment of the many.

Thus far, the practice of investigative journalism in the Philippines has for the most part limited itself to exposing the scams involving government officials. Because of this, investigative journalism has come to be commonly understood in the Philippines as that branch of journalism that uncovers corruption and other government scams, and seeks to make government accountable to the public.

The Philippine journalistic landscape is thus not wanting in investigative reports on such topics as the fate of the sequestered Marcos billions, or of Corazon Aquino’s so-called “Kamag-anak, Inc.”, or of the anomalous infrastructure projects during the Ramos administration, or of Estrada’s involvement in illegal gambling, or the numerous onerous contracts entered into by the Arroyo regime.

To be sure, however, corruption is not the only issue for which high government officials should be held accountable to the people.

The nefarious dealings that the Philippine government goes into with its former colonial and now neocolonial string-puller, the U.S., also deserve to be pried into by the investigative journalist.

How complicit, for instance, was the Arroyo administration in the influence-peddling of the U.S.-based and USAID-funded lobby group AGILE (Accelerating Growth, Investment and Liberalization with Equity) on Philippine policy-makers in 2003?

Or where in hell now is L/Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was convicted last year of raping “Nicole” two years ago? Is he still in the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, as Amb. Kristie Kenney claims, or has he been spirited out of the country like many a U.S. serviceman who committed similarly heinous crimes against Filipinos in the heyday of Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base?

While at that, is it true that the U.S. presently maintains secret basing facilities in Subic, Angeles City, Mactan City, and General Santos City — even with constitutional provisions expressly prohibiting foreign military presence on Philippine soil?

These deserve to be looked into, as does government policy on recognizing — or the refusal to recognize — human rights, which are protected by no less than the Constitution and the various international instruments which the government is constitutionally bound to recognize as “part of the law of the land.”

Beyond that, there are not so many investigative reports, for instance, on the 2001 allegations that the owners of what is now the Power Plant Mall at Rockwell Center buried toxic waste from what was a real power plant under land forming part of Brgy. San Joaquin, Pasig City.

I also do not remember seeing any investigative report on the allegations a few years back that then Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas went on an all expense-paid trip to Nestle’s main office in Geneva, Switzerland at the height of the strike by the unionized workers of its branch in Cabuyao, Laguna in protest against CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) violations. The trip, it is alleged, was for the purpose of striking a deal between Sto. Tomas and the company’s top-level management to ensure that the company’s local branch would be favored over the striking workers in Cabuyao.

Without passing any judgment on whether the allegations were true or not, I still say that these nevertheless deserved to be probed.

The issue of how big landholders in the country have gone around the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 — taking advantage of its many loopholes to evade having their lands subjected to agrarian reform — is another one that has yet to be probed deeply enough by investigative journalism. Investigative reports on such a topic would be timely today, considering that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program’s second 10-year extension ends next year.

While it is very much laudable to use investigative journalism to help in disclosing corruption and other government scandals, we must never for a moment construe this as the only task of the investigative journalist.

I cannot stress too much my premise that it is power-wielders from both the public and private sectors who typically have skeletons in the closet which investigative journalism may and should unearth.

It is not just high government officials who have those dark secrets that are crying out to be brought into the open; but also, for instance, the big bosses of corporate giants and the landed aristocracy. Investigative journalism in the Philippines has made some attempts at probing the skeletons hidden by entities other than high government, but the secrets of big business and the landed aristocracy are still uncharted territory for most Filipino investigative journalists.

The big bosses of corporate giants and the landed aristocracy, as much as high government officials, deserve to be subject to the intense scrutiny of investigative journalism — since they, like high government officials, affect to a great deal the life of the general public — who are, in the final analysis, the ultimate beneficiaries of the successes of any investigative journalist.

Any issues involving them and how they impact on the lives of the people are necessary subjects of investigative journalism. As Teodoro said:

Whether at the community or national level, all issues that touch upon the way people live are people’s issues. These issues range from the need for day care centers for working mothers to the undeclared martial law in Jolo. Whether by documenting corruption or environmental degradation, child labor or the manipulation of the stock market, the investigative report can help put an end to both the ignorance as well as the legacy of secrecy that are among the instruments that help keep Philippine society what it is for the overwhelming majority of the people — a society of vast injustice and even greater misery…

That having been said, high government, big business and the landed aristocracy are but part of a larger organism which goes by the name Philippine society.

Investigative journalism, therefore, should go beyond uncovering their dark secrets and must also probe into the dynamics of the social forces that make the power-wielders what they are, and that keep them as such. Investigative journalism, in the words of former Bulatlat executive editor Bobby Tuazon, “should be honed and advanced as a tool for social transformation,” and “(should) not confine itself to reporting about corruption and other scandals but (should delve) into the bigger, more socially-relevant issues of the poor and the oppressed.”

To summarize: Investigative journalism is needed in any society like the Philippines. It has to some extent been responsive to the social conditions that make it a necessity in this country, but its practitioners here can and would do well to do more.

Alexander Martin Remollino

Alexander Martin Remollino is Tinig.com's associate editor. He is a poet, essayist, and journalist, and has also written some short fiction.

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Marian says:

    I love your article kuya! Thanks, its very informative. We are currently doing a thesis regarding investigative reporting and this article was very useful. You had boost my eagerness to do well in our thesis. Salamat ng marami…

  2. sonia j. chang says:

    hi, a friend of mine told me to get connected to UP investigative journalists…. you see i am a duly elected board of director of MORESCO 1 an electric cooperative here in misamis oriental… during the annual gen assembly in May 20l2 i was sworn in as board of director.. at that time too the souvenir program was distributed.. in it are the financial reports for the years 20ll and 2010… was able to gather from that report that our coop had an accumulated losses of P95,386,581.00. that is why even though we had an income of 584,427 in 20ll we cannot find this income in the balance sheet. i found out that this income has been deducted from the accumulated losses account of 95,971,008.00 (95,971,008-584,427 = 95,386,58l.00). during my briefing with management before the first meeting in june that i have attended i called up the attention of the finance manager to explain to me the accumulated losses account. i told him i need an explanation cuz if we take into account the 1M income of moresco 1 in 2011 it will take 95 years to wipe 0ut this account….. when will we stop then the passing on our capital expenditures to our consumer members? after 95 years?… by then all of us will be gone..i told the management committee that i have worked in Philsec investment corp in cagayan de oro city and i found out that all over the world the best place for investors to put their money in is in utilities as in power and water utilities… yet moresco 1 as pioneer among electric coops and has existed operating for 44 years still has an accumulated losses of 95,386,000? i did not get a reply on this and after perusing the financial report submitted to the board during our regular monthly meetings after that… the account has been changed to accumulated margin…by the way in my accounting lesson… i have not come accross an account such as accumulated losses, what i learned is that losses can never be accumulated but this is an accepted norm in the electric cooperatives all over the country… in 109 electrict coops under NEA…since i was elected Secretary in the CONEC an organization of new board of direct0rs who attended NEA sponsored training for Good governance in toledo city, cebu attended by new board of directors all over the country in june 20l2, i have access to almost all electric coops under NEA . was able to get confirmation from two visayas electric coops that they too have accumulated losses… one has more than 400M and the other one has 118M…. if this is the case…. we can never make provisions for capital expenditures out of our electric coops’ income… so everytime there are capital expenditures to be made, it will be forever be passed on to the consumers-members… by the way in the list of capital expenditures presented in the souvenir program..of 2012 .. the total capital expenditures from 20ll to 20l4 is Pl,542,050.00 . which i believe too big for an electric coop with 95M accumulated losses..comparing it with other coops… one has only 45M capital expenditures…in2011, moresco 1 had 64,053 connections with total gross rev enue of 880,663,462.00, and with gross margin from energy sales of 195,4l4,842.00. total salaries…46,104,289.00 and expenses for outside labor was l5,8l6,28l…( by the way the contractor of outside labor is MEMPCO which represents… Moresco 1 Employees Multipurpose Coop and the current directors are the ISD manager, edna diango, finance manager eugene velasco and internal auditor , Dexter Baculio.). i am the newest member of the moresco-l board…when i ran in april 14,2012, despite of being able to have attended only 1 AGMA – (annual general membership assembly). i was able to run because of the RTC order to qualify me to run. … yet NEA came out of resolution to oust me as BOD…. in the last board meeting that i have attended on Aug 26, the following discussions were hanging… 1. the request of the Gen Manager to have authority to enter into contract with a power provider with confidentiality agreement… i have some reservations on this cuz during our good governance training contracts entered into by the electric coops should have absolute transparency… 2. the answer on my querries onthe approved purchase of KWH meters (Chifu brand) for 40,000 units at P65,120,000.00. only one suplier bidded… i had requested for some clarifications on questions that might be raised by my district’s consumers -members such as…will the peso equivalent on the reduction of systems loss from the purchase of these meters justifies the additional burden that we are passing on to our consumer members?(the answer of the GM was if we purchase the new high tech meters the consumers-members will not be required to make a deposit for P2,400.00 on these meters…when i got home i gathered that the deposit for residential consumers-members is free by law… so i called up one of the directors why she did not correct theGM’s reply cuz i know she knows that the deposit for residential members are free cuz they ha ve been with the board for almost 9 years……also on my 2nd question why we have to buy in bulk the 40,000 units of kwh meters at one time? why not buy it every year, when need demands it, cuz these 40,000 units will be utilized within 4 years…why do we have to give additional burden to our consumers-members for the interest on loans for meters lying idle in the warehouse? … the GM answered that because of required ERC calibration we need to buy all especially that the demand has grown because of the President Pinoy’s Sitio Energization program. …. He forgot that the Sitio Energization program has its own funding from the president and does not form part of the capital expenditures that will have to be passed on to our consumers-members…. besides in the schedule of capital expenditures submitted during the AGMa of 2012… the purchase of these kwh meters should have been done on a yearly basis… 20M in 2012, 20M in 20l3 and 20M in 20l4…. no. 3 concern hanging was the donation of P5,0M to WCTCIC foundation which takes charge of the social responsibilities of Moresco 1 to its employes and consumers-members because according to the GM the employees need to be commended for attaining capital expenditure savings of P5M . i was not in favor to this and suggested instead to use these funds to partially pay the recent loan of P10M which Moresco took after the Sendong calamity …. besides donation as big as P5m should be ratified by the general membership…… yet the GM wants to push through with the donation cuz according to him the resolution covering this donation has been long before submitted to NEA and that NEA approves this ……i believe if we look deeper on the operation of the electric coops all over the country… we have a great chance to reduce the electric rates all over the country and be able to attract more investors considering that our country’s electric rates are among those highest in Asian countries… Would appreciate if you can give time to this…. thank you so much…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>