Monday, September 2, 2013

How do you solve a problem like Janet?

By Florangel Rosario Braid
Published in Manila Bulletin
August 14, 2013

Her two-part interview with a national daily had gone viral on the Internet. Stories on how she got away with the P10 billion barrel scam and the P900 million Malampaya gas funds are on the top list of the most well-read and viewed reports on media But after reading the unedited roundtable, one is left wondering how someone like Janet can successfully pull a scam of this magnitude for over a decade without anyone from the government, the media, the NGO, or the Church suspecting that something unusual is going on.

The media has its own speculations about Janet’s motivation in wanting to speak to the editor. Was it an intent to bribe? Or, as she herself had said, is it to seek the last bastion that she could trust, the media? But as one rightly noted, it is not the media, but the court that can address her problem. Some thought that the interview series was a waste of space as she was not ready to answer questions. In fact, it made her look ludicrous, a pitiable sight, as she was unintelligible in most of her responses.

My own perplexed mind led me to ask questions such as: What does it take to succeed in a venture like this? Would it have happened if we had an FOI? Maybe not, but in this case, even the existence of a law is not enough. Corruption will continue unless we have a vigilant media , a fully awakened civil society, and enough courageous whistleblowers. Unfortunately, we do not have that culture of accountability that would nurture passionate advocates to watch out for signs that would threaten the integrity of their communities, and which would prevent the Napoleses or their kind from further exploiting our citizens. These are in the form of adequate accountability structures within relevant units of both national and local governments, the media, and nongovernment agencies.

Many among the members of our media are trained to report news and momentous events. They are either unable to spot indicators in ordinary happenings that could break into a potential crisis or are comfortable in their existing roles. Many of our information personnel in government and NGOs and corporate organizations are the same. We have few Marlene Esperats among our community journalists who have the sensitivity to smell potential danger. Esperat was not a journalist but a government employee who had that curiosity that led to her questioning figures brought to her in connection with the fertilizer scam. When they did not add up, she squealed. And of course we knew what happened when she did. She was shot in broad daylight while having lunch with her son.

We lack adequate safety and security systems that could have saved the life of Esperat and other courageous journalists and whistleblowers. We need to build within each NGO and government structure, information systems that would monitor performance of government and their own organizations. The availability and accessibility to the new social media of Internet and mobile technology like I-phones and the I-pads and tablets, can now make monitoring and reporting of illegal practices much easier.

The FOI law, when passed, will not merely benefit the investigative journalist. It will be a critical enabling legislation that would facilitate the effective utilization of technology by government in its anti-corruption and advocacy for climate change, peace, anti-illegal drugs campaigns, and other development concerns.

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