PCIJ and the Art of Digging

You know, I take pot-shots at Philippine media for its sensationalism and commercial greed, particularly the two popular television stations. But I also hold Philippine journalists in very high regard as being THE MOST SIGNIFICANT counter-balancing force to the strange beast that is Philippine oligodemocracy.  That is a term I found in the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary meaning “democratic in form, oligarchic in power within that form”.

There is a reason so many journalists are murdered in the Philippines, and there is a reason so few  murderers are held to account for the deed.
Force A, the journalists, advocate for transparency, fair dealing and people’s well-being. Force B, the political power brokers, advocate for continued power and enrichment.
It is a simple stand-off, one good, the other bad. One of President Aquino’s disappointments is failing to address the bad, failing to investigate and prosecute extra-judicial murderers and murders of journalists. Maybe he sees the futility of taking down the official gunrunners, the vigilantes, in Davao and Cebu and elsewhere who brutally  hold order to the law when the official ways simply don’t work. Maybe he is right, practically, and I am wrong, idealistically.
I have bemoaned to the point of whining about the lack of a “Civil Liberties Union” advocacy group in the Philippines that would lead the charge on RH Bill passage and correction of other social ills which are too numerous to enumerate here. I understand there used to be such a group in the Philippines but the  attorneys representing it found it less threatening and better paying to work elsewhere.
Today, thanks in large part to greater internet literacy within the Philippines, there are some new forces being brought to bear on the political game-players. One is the amalgamation of internet media, including bloggers, social networking (twitter, facebook)and on-line information channels like Rappler.
Another one features the rise of liberal advocacy groups that stand opposed to the entrenched interest groups represented mainly by political parties (oligarchs) and religious institutions. Women’s rights organizations are still fractionalized, but the collective voice is getting louder. Maybe loud enough to get the RH Bill passed.
It seems to me that the one organization that represents an ongoing powerful voice of righteous “people power” is the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). It’s charter is to dig, to investigate, to reveal. It is a very strong advocate of the Freedom of Information Act and financial transparency from public officials via SALN’s and other documents. The PCIJ recognizes that the demands of popular media to operate quickly and at low cost means depth of discovery is often missing. It seeks to remedy this, as the first few paragraphs of its on-line introduction state:
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) is an independent, nonprofit media agency that specializes in investigative reporting. It was founded in 1989 by nine Filipino journalists who realized, from their years on the beat and at the news desk, the need for newspapers and broadcast agencies to go beyond day–to–day reportage.
While the Philippine press is undoubtedly the liveliest and freest in Asia, deadline pressures, extreme competition and budgetary constraints make it difficult for many journalists to delve into the causes and broader meanings of news events.
The PCIJ believes that the media play a crucial role in scrutinizing and strengthening democratic institutions, defending and asserting press freedom, freedom of information, and freedom of expression. The media could—and should—be a catalyst for social debate and consensus that would redound to the promotion of public welfare. To do so, the media must provide citizens with the bases for arriving at informed opinions and decisions.
The PCIJ was set up to contribute to this end by promoting investigative reporting on current issues in Philippine society and on matters of large public interest. It does not intend to replace the work of individual newspapers or radio and television stations, but merely seeks to encourage the development of investigative journalism and to create a culture for it within the Philippine press.
Executive Director Malou Mangahas

The organization is engaged in several of today’s front-line debates that are reshaping and modernizing Philippine governance. They focus on government transparency. This enters into matters such as the Judicial Bar Council (JBC) deliberations concerning which nominees get on the “short list” of possible Supreme Court Chief Justice candidates. President Aquino selects the Chief Justice from this short list of three candidates. A recent PCIJ blog reviews their position on this which seems to me proper, although late in its submission to the JBC (submission on Filipino clock, perhaps, drifting, drifting . . . forever drifting . . .).  Link to blog.

I like the fact that the PCIJ is speaking to the JBC about transparency matters through two attorneys, Solomon F. Lumba and Nepomuceno Malaluan. It’s a dicey and somewhat legalistic situation because the courts rule on transparency laws. They can issue rulings which either hide or reveal judge’s financial records. Attorneys characteristically lead the charge for social modernization and fairness in the United States. More power to Filipino attorneys who work for us all, in a way.
The PCIJ internet site is interesting but seems a little stale around the edges. I went to an intriguing side-bar category called “Local Bosses Across the Country” and found one of the best articles I’ve read in a long while: The Seven Ms of Dynasty Building by Sheila S. Coronel. The article was written in 2007. Well, perhaps it is a timeless article. But my impression of current efforts is “scattergun” and not fresh. My guess is the PCIJ is a small group of people with way too much to do.
I also found an article detailing the turnover of staff and internal tensions that arose during 2007. There was question at the time whether or not the turmoil would end the fine work being done at PCIJ. It did not. 
The indication at the time of the turmoil was that the PCIJ would focus on a few high-impact articles. My  impression from the web site is that it is perhaps more current-event focused. But they also publish books, which is definitely big project. I think there needs to be both: current issues, where they can get more information than we have, and interpret it for us, and big-impact investigations.
The one critical point that we non-Filipinos have to grasp is how dangerous it is to do investigative journalism in the Philippines. Important people here don’t like being revealed in ways they don’t agree with, and they often take matters into their own hands, one of the hands too often holding a gun. It is in recognition of this danger that PCIJ received the Agence France-Presse’s Kate Webb Award for exceptional journalism work in difficult or dangerous circumstances in 2009.
I’ve added links to PCIJ blogs to my blog roll, and its main web site begins a new list of links I will be compiling called “Advocacy Web Sites”.
In recognition of their honorable work, I list below the Board and managerial staff of PCIJ. Ms. Malou Mangahas, as Executive Director, carries the heavy load, and I wish her, and PCIJ, every success in the advocacy for a more transparent and honest Philippines. Ms. Mangahas was formerly VP for Research and Content Development at GMA-7, so she has solid digging experience and, I’m quite confident, calluses on her typing fingers.
Thank you for representing those of us who want to see a more candid and well-principled Philippines.
Board of Editors
David Celdran
Howie G. Severino
Malou Mangahas
Dominick NA Danao
Sheila S. Coronel
Cecile C.A. Balgos
Malou Mangahas
Ed Lingao
Che De Los Reyes
Karol Ilagan
Markku Seguerra
Dona Lopez
13 Responses to “PCIJ and the Art of Digging”
  1. brianitus says:

    Very nice, Joe. It's good that you're reading up.The real story is not on the press releases. If you've seen the first Matrix movie, you'll probably get this. The goody-goody presentation of Philippine gov't press releases of how things are is kinda like living inside the Matrix, where everything is almost in order with a semblance of reality. The choice is between unplugging or not; choosing between the steak and the slop.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Problem with journalism in the Philippines was created by their very own, the JOURNALISTS. Mushrooming of "illegal" journalists started when the legitimate ones accepted payola from people with certain political and lately any form of agenda. Prime examples are columnists accepting government positions and those in the Bureau of Customs where almost half a thousand journalists are accredited. One does not need an Einstein gray matter to deduce that their presence in that bureau is becoming an accomplice or facilitators of corrupt actions. Ill effects of rotten journalists are perceptions that everyone is tainted especially those hard hitting journalists oppose to projects of people with self serving agendas but inadvertently favors their enemies. The catastrophic result is death sentence. Journalists must be pure, independent and willing to sacrifice. Financial gain must be the last motive. Their own organizations must be willing to get rid of unsavory members including expulsion of founders, officers and members known to have accepted government positions while being active in their profession. "Delicadeza" is also a two way street. media owners must also be selective on their regular paid opinion writers. There must be published open disclosure in their mediums who are paid columnists or are employees. Policing their own is a professional duty.Funds are needed to carry out exhaustive investigation of any subject matter. Private entity investigative journalism like PCIJ could only be successful with proper funding by independent grant foundations or outside sources without basic business, political, religious interest in the Philippines. Publications or Radio/TV medium sponsored investigative units are also perceived as partisans to the interest of the owners. Logistical support from government is possible if no politicians would have control on the funding. In other countries, project researches or studies must never be about the interest of the fund grantor to be unbiased, independent and credible. In the Philippines some so called independent groups which are vocal proponents of RH bill are receiving financial supports from outside sources with economic and political interest on the issue of population control thru medicines and abortions. Likewise, those oppose to RH bills are connected with religious sects. Whatever studies or researches or statistics they will present to the Legislators supporting their cause will always be unreliable and skewed toward each proponent.Until the journalist organization realize that they have to solve their basic problem enumerated above, any investigative approach would always be viewed as prejudicial to one party. Clean their own mess must be the priority.Besides, "Shooting the messenger" has been perfected by pundits on both sides.He he he! Johnny Lin

  3. brianitus says:

    Extra-judicial killings = literally shooting the messenger Still unchecked.

  4. Fascinating insights, Johnny. Background to the "natural" bias in journalism. Need for objective funding and views. I particularly like that you point out how important self-responsibility is for development of a more professional journalistic integrity.

  5. Wow, I like that characterization, the Matrix. I've used the "surreal" word and you give it a wholeness of bizarre reality. I think maybe more people are seeing the cat walk by twice.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Nice read. New here. Also follow Raissa and Ellen. But your perspective is different being a gringo. Refreshing, I might say. About big media and the networks, I must say it looks like every man for himself. Probably, save for PCIJ, Rappler, Vera Files, and the Center for Freedom and Media Responsibility(if not mistaken here), they have found themselves in a conflict of interest situation. And so biased. I take whatever that comes from them with a grain of salt. But Pnoy's Comm group is not helping matters…DocB

  7. Well, DocB, good of you to stop by and comment. I trust that when my observations are off-base, you'll let me know.The conflicts of interest hereabouts are amazing, as you point out. A former VP as a newscaster, the President's family involved with the Inquirer, the high court and JBC, what a rat's nest of conflicts. What stuns me is how the President can evidently want Ms. De Lima as Chief Justice, after dispensing with the favorite of Ms. Arroyo via impeachment. Does he not grasp that the APPEARANCE of bias destroys credibility as effectively as real bias?

  8. Cha says:

    Malou Mangahas was Editor in Chief of the Philippine Collegian (UP official student publication) on my freshman year. Shiela Coronel was Features Editor, if I remember right. Martial Law was still on and yet they bravely wrote about the abuses of the Marcos regime, something the national newspapers of the time dared not do. They have also both spent some time in jail for what they wrote.Both of them have pretty much lived up to their journalistic ideals. They're both proof that journalism can be a rewarding career without having to sell out.

  9. Now I want to put the PCIJ links in the right column in 30 point font, flashing red letters. I won't, but you've just raised their credibility immensely in my eyes. Thanks for the background info.

  10. Anonymous says:

    From: Island jim-e (aka: The Cricket)1. Thanks to this site and others that have the best interests of our community, island nation, and the worldat heart I believe that the sacrifice and "struggle"will justify the end result (if our island earth is still able to bear the weight of mankinds misdeeds!2. I still have some hope for a better and improvedisland community if (IF) in my-lifetime we see moremembers get interested in participation for their ownsalvation. One of the biggest "holes" I see around medaily is that very few people read the newspapers (evenif they can have access to one), very few participate inlocal governmental activity (don't see anyone showing upfor city council meetings (most time they meet in secretaround my part of the islands), and if the "leverage" isleft to the tv/radio news media I see very little happening.The only tool left is the internet…and I see very little-few people around me that are "computer functional" and thefew that are spend most of their time playing video gamesand time with social media…!3. Much of the indifference I witness is caused by aoligarchy which perfers the status quo in order to controlthe people! Population complacency and apathy are the toolswhich allow the "status quo" sponsors to get fatter!4. Some nations have put "controls" in place to try andeven up the playing field–censorship of the media and entertainment industry has it's good points! In the USAthe FCC mandates that the Radio and Telvision stations havea annual review (keep logs) and have to have a minimum of public service, public information, educational,etc.. timeminimums mandated plus public comments recorded in thestation logs before they are allowed to re-license for thenext year. Other countries have a functional jury system,commercial and business monitoring and license organizationswhich help grease the wheels of society….sidebar: as regards the Public Service Announcements (PSA)the government departments/divisions, i.e., health depart-ments produced a series of educational materials, posters,flyers, radio and tv annoucements–"stop, look, listen!",(smokie the bear-prevent forest fires), the americannative crying over pollution issues, soooo many more PSAtypes/issues/comentaries thathave served (by repetition and visualization) to create a better environment, societyand law enforcement environment! PSA usage by the localisland RTV-film and press media would go a long way toimprove our life-style. Some corporations even sponsoredPSA messages which helped them build community "face".Besides governmental PSA use, the non-profit organizationsuse of PSA messages also were active in making up a set of "society-ethics" which seem to goo some good for alland helped in great measure to improve our world! Chirp….

  11. Anonymous says:

    That's also the criticism of De Quiros of Pnoy when he bought that Porsche. Perception is all. Consistency. Mixed message, that's what I see. Indifference begets more indifference from the public. Nobody seems to care, it seems. Not from high up. Media dumbing down content continues. Rhessa of Rappler tells us to draw the line, stop the oily clutch of corruption. Else, cross to the slippery slope and sell one's soul to the devil. DocB

  12. I agree. Indeed, to some extent I think the bruhaha over the RH Bill is unnecessary. A PSA program would do a lot to inform and educate.

  13. Your last line is important. It is a decision, isn't it, the decision to cheat and scheme and lie and steal. It's amazing how many people make it.

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