What is the Uncovering Asia conference?

UNCOVERING ASIA is the first Asian investigative journalism conference. The event will bring together top investigative reporters, data journalists, and media law and security experts from across Asia and around the world in Manila on November 22-24, 2014.

The conference is hosted by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, with additional support from the Open Society Foundations and more than a half-dozen co-sponsors.

The conference will also mark two important occasions: a special reception honoring the 25th anniversary of the pioneering Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and a candlelight assembly to commemorate the UN-designated International Day to End Impunity on Nov. 23.

It will be held at the Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria Hotel, Pasig City.

For attendees based outside the Philippines, please register with GIJN here.

For attendees based in the Philippines, click the image below to download the registration form.

Registration Form



AN ONLINE tug ‘o war on pending right of reply bills has been launched by the House of Representatives.

The online poll posits this question: “Do you agree that a ‘right of reply’ provision must be incorporated in the proposed FOI statute?”

Agree? Disagree? Join the poll!

The poll was posted on the House’s website a fortnight ago.

As of this noon, Sept. 17, the “No” votes (227 respondents or 79.93%) have overwhelmed the “Yes” votes (49 respondents or 17.25%), for a significant 4:1 ratio.

Eight other respondents said they were as yet undecided.

The online poll states that while the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill seeks to uphold the citizens’ right to access public spending records and other documents vested with public interest, “several lawmakers insist that the FOI bill should also contain a ‘right of reply’ provision, which would require media to allot airtime or print media space to aggrieved parties or to those claiming to be unjustly placed in a bad light by news stories.”

The poll adds that the right of reply provision will require mainstream news organizations to “allot airtime or print media space to aggrieved parties or to those claiming to be unjustly placed in a bad light by news stories.”

Powered by SimPoll v.1.0, the poll is open to the public. Only one vote is allowed for every IP address, however. The poll features a dynamically generated form that updates the number of total votes and a detailed results page. It also checks for repeat votes.

But the House Committee on Public Information, which is hearing separate pending bills on FOI and right of reply, seems to be the last to know about the online poll.

Atty. Norman Pelinio, supervising political affairs officer for legal affairs of Rep. Jorge Almonte, chair of the House Committee on Public Information, said as much.

Neither Almonte nor the Committee has initiated the poll, Pelinio told PCIJ. The poll, he said, might have been launched just for the purpose of gauging the public’s sentiment.

According to Pelinio, he and the Committee chair learned about the poll only after PCIJ called to ask about it on Monday. The poll has been running for two weeks now.

“As it stands, the right of reply is a separate bill from the FOI. We treat them separately unlike in the previous Congresses. The FOI bill and the Right of Reply bill have separate technical working groups,” he said.

The poll results, he added, “will have no bearing the current deliberation of the committee.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has reiterated that a right of reply provision in the FOI bill is no different from the separate bill since this will send the same chilling effect on news coverage, which will discourage critical reporting.

NUJP, along with news organizations and media groups, “have vigorously fought against the Right of Reply bill before and even more, against its inclusion in the FOI bill.”

“We maintain that media have always recognized the right of reply as a legitimate right of citizens. However, including this as a provision in the FOI bill will be tantamount to prior restraint. It will subsume the media outlets’ editorial prerogative to decide which stories to print, broadcast or upload,” NUJP said in a statement.

The NUJP added that “a right of reply provision in the FOI bill will weaken public discourse, which is the foundation of any democratic society — a kind of society that the Aquino administration has been repeatedly claiming to be.”

“We enjoin all advocates of freedom of expression to go online and vote ‘NO’ so that once and for all, our lawmakers will realize that we will not sit idly by and let them impinge upon our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of the press and of expression,’ the NUJP said. – Cong Corrales

By Charmaine P. Lirio

TO SHARE or not to share — that’s a question that arguably shouldn’t even come up whenever the Supreme Court is asked for the Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) of its members and the rest of the judiciary.

Recently, however, the Supreme Court rejected even the request of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares for copies of the SALN of members of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Tax Appeals. According to the Court, Henares’s request lacked reasonable and sufficient basis — which probably had the country’s top tax official practising some more at the shooting range.

And yet Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, in her most recent meeting with the press, said that in her opinion members of the judiciary are already “very transparent” when it comes to their wealth. She also said that a review of the guidelines on accessing the SALNs of members of the judiciary would require more time.

“It was in 2012 that we decided with full compliance of the SALN law,” Sereno said at the press conference in late August. “Now, you are going to ask us to push further.”

“Give it a little rest,” she said. “It’s only been two years.”

SALNs, of course, are important source documents for tracking the wealth of public officials and for checking for potential and actual conflicts of interests that may affect the performance of their duties. But for the last two decades or so, getting SALNs from members of the judiciary has been far from easy. That includes the last two years since Sereno became Chief Justice.

To be sure, the Supreme Court, in its 2012 resolution containing guidelines on requesting copies of SALNs from the judiciary, said that “custodians of public documents must not concern themselves with the motives, reasons and objects of the persons seeking access to the records. The moral or material injury which their misuse might inflict on others is the requestor’s responsibility and lookout.”

Despite such pronouncements, though, the Court requires a statement of specific purpose and interest to be served for SALN requests. If the requestor cites public interest or public concern, a further justification should be indicated. If it is for an individual, the interest must “go beyond pure or mere curiosity.” If it includes a request for SALN for previous years, a separate explanation is also needed.

That”s not the end of it. The Clerk of Court will then assess the request to see if it is covered by the limitation and prohibitions of the law and the Supreme Court’s guidelines before referring it to the Court En Banc for “final determination.”

In addition, a request for copies of SALN of the judiciary calls for the accomplishment of a request form, which must be notarized. For members of the media, the submission of proof of media affiliation and a certification that the organization is a legitimate media entity are also needed.

The Supreme Court invokes privacy, safety, and the maintenance of the independence of the justices by protecting them against intimidation as reasons for its numerous requirements for SALN requests. At the press conference, Chief Justice Sereno said that the Court was not acting outside of its bounds when it set the guidelines.

In its 2012 resolution, the Court had also mentioned the restrictions under the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. Under Rule IV of the law’s IRR, requests for information may be denied when disclosure would put an individual in imminent danger, might compromise rulings or decisions, or interfere with adjudication and enforcement proceedings.

The law itself includes provisions for the availability of SALNs at reasonable hours and reasonable costs, as well as a prohibition against using these for purposes contrary to moral or public policy or for commercial purposes other than communication media.

Prior to the resolution, the courts referred to a 1989 guideline when receiving SALN requests. The old rule was stricter and leaned more toward denial of access. This facilitated a practice of secrecy that had developed during the ’90s under then Chief Justice Andres B. Narvasa. At the time, reports of alleged bribery and corruption swirled around the high tribunal, damaging its reputation and even causing the early retirement of its chief justice in 1998.

The policy of non-disclosure was adopted by succeeding justices. In fact, the Court has been rejecting SALN requests from PCIJ since 2006.

The situation changed somewhat in 2012, when the tribunal was compelled to act on the numerous requests before them, triggered in part by the proceedings against then Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached because of inaccurate entries in his SALN.

To Sereno, the SALN guidelines circa 2012 are “a major improvement over the former regime that had prohibited the disclosure of the SALN except for very, very limited reasons.”

Perhaps others can tell the difference. As for PCIJ, there are only more forms to fill, requirements to accomplish, purposes and interests to explain, and offices to go through in the hope that its request for the justices’ SALNs won’t face the same fate as that of the BIR.

IT IS A BUDGET decked with pork before and huge lump-sum or special purpose funds to this day. Many citizens are wont to believe that the budget is a document that hides more than it reveals.

Yet still, in terms of the simple availability of budget documents to the public – and not accountability in how funds are being spent r the integrity of the data enrolled int he documents — the Philippines seems to be doing quite well in a league of 30 mostly poor, developing countries in the world.

It is the only one of the 30 countries that has so far made major budget documents available, or even readily downloadable from the websites of the spending agencies.

On Sept. 12, 2104, the US-based International Budget Partnership (IBP) launched a new tracking tool, the Open Budget Survey Tracker to provide real-time information on the availability to the citizens of eight essential budget documents. By international good practice in budget transparency, these eight must published in a timely manner.

Research teams have been assigned to work with the OBS Tracker in 30 countries. Monitoring work started in November 2013 and will end in June 2015.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the Philippine researcher, has used as reference the budget calendar, which the agencies have adopted mostly by established practice. Thus far, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Bureau of the Treasury (BTr), and the Commission on Audit (COA) have made the following documents available, covering three fiscal years: 2013, 2014, and 2015:

* 2015 Pre-budget Statement (PBS)
* 2015 Executive Budget Proposal (EBP)
* 2014 Enacted Budget (EB)
* Citizen’s Budget for EB and EBP
* In-Year Reports (Cash Operation, Revenues, Expenditure, and Debt Reports from the BTr and Status of Allotment Releases, Report on Utilization of Cash Allocation, and Disbursement Performance Reports from DBM)
* 2013 Mid-year Review
* 2014 Year-end Report
* 2012 Annual Audit Report

Of the 30 countries covered in the OBS Tracker, 14 are in Africa, 7 in Asia, 6 in Europe, and 3 in South America. In Asia, Philippines performed better than Kyrgyz Republic, Timor Leste, Vietnam, Palestsine, Iraq, and Myanmar, by the standard of making budget documents publicly available on time.

In the other countries, many budget documents were available for internal use only by officials. The citizen’s budget and mid-year review were commonly not produced. The non-disclosure of these documents to the public, according to the IBP, “leaves critical gaps in the public’s ability to understand how public money is being managed and, ultimately, assess how well the government is doing in delivering essential services such as health and education.”

In truth, the OBS Tracker is limited only to providing information on the timeliness of the public release of budget documents. It does not offer an assessment on the quality and comprehensiveness of the information enrolled in the documents. Neither does it capture the availability of data on the spending of lump-sum or special purpose funds that are relevant to current issues such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in the Philippines’s case.

The OBS Tracker, nonetheless, complements the Open Budget Survey (OBS) that the IBP conducts in 100 countries every two years. At best, the OBS Tracker gives monthly updates on the availability of key budget documents. The Open Budget Survey, meanwhile, remains the definitive source for assessment of the broader public budget system within a country.

While less comprehensive than the Open Budget Survey, the timeliness of the OBS Tracker “allows governments to be recognized almost immediately when they take steps to be more transparent and enables stakeholders to track progress, identify gaps, and press for improvements,” the IBP said.

“Covering over 100 countries, the Open Budget Survey is the gold standard for assessing government budget transparency and accountability,” IBP Executive Director Warren Krafchik said in a press statement. “However, the research, analysis, and review for this comprehensive assessment takes two years, which creates significant gaps in monitoring and encouraging government improvements. So, we developed the OBS Tracker to provide certain fundamental budget information on a more frequent basis.”

“The OBS Tracker complements but doesn’t replace the full Open Budget Survey,” Kraftchick said. “It is like a thermometer or blood pressure gauge in that it can indicate the overall health of the system and identify where there might be problems, but it cannot provide a complete diagnosis.”

With help from the OBS Tracker, “governments that are opening their budgets will get the immediate recognition they deserve, and those that limit information, or restrict it further, will not be allowed to escape scrutiny.”

The IBP conducts the OBS every two years to assess governments’ budget transparency through a 100-point scale called the Open Budget Index (OBI). PCIJ has served as the Philippine researcher of the OBS since 2006.

The 30 countries covered by the OBS Tracker were, by and large, “drawn from among the least transparent as measured by the Open Budget Survey, in order to see whether having more up-to-date information will be a useful tool to encourage governments to improve transparency.”

Visitors to the OBS Tracker website will get an updated snapshot of how countries are doing, look at trends for each country over time, and download the actual budget documents that governments are publishing. – Rowena F. Caronan, PCIJ

From the PCIJ Files: MAKATI CITY


IN THIS series, we will share with you PCIJ’s databases on the wealth, campaign contributions and spending, and social network of elected government officials of the Philippines.

Former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto S. Mercado recently came to the limelight as witness to the alleged kickbacks from public contracts that supposedly went to Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” C. Binay when he was still mayor of Makati City.

Mercado was Binay’s political ally for 15 years before he switched to the Nacionalista Party in 2010. A former businessman, Mercado began his political career as councilor of Makati City in 1992 and was re-elected in 1995. He ran for vice mayor in 1998 but lost to actor Edu Manzano. He returned to public office in 2001 as vice mayor and won his 2004 and 2007 re-election bid. In 2010, Mercado ran for mayor but lost to Jejomar Erwin “JunJun” S. Binay Jr. who ran for mayor in lieu of his father, Jojo Binay, who ran and won as vice president.

How wealthy is Mercado?

Mercado’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) available at the PCIJ library showed that his net worth marked a minimal increase from P62.83 million in 2000 to P63.92 million in 2004.

As of 2004, his total assets stood at P114 million and his liabilities, P50 million. Mercado declared owning P54.3 million worth of properties in Makati City, Pateros, Antipolo City, Bataan, Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Batangas.

His most expensive properties were a P12-million condominium unit in Makati City and P10-million land property in Pateros. He also declared stocks and business investments worth P52.9 million.

“Anti-selfie” bill co-author withdraws

Cong B. Corrales

THE LIST of authors of a controversial house bill being opposed by journalists and freedom of expression advocates in the Philippines just got shorter.

Former police general Leopoldo Bataoil, now representative of the second district of Pangasinan, withdrew his support for House Bill 4807, according to a journal of the House of Representatives.

The measure is also known as the proposed “Act to Provide Protection From Personal Intrusion for Commercial Purposes” and has been branded by its critics as the “anti-selfie” bill

Bataoil, who also sits as the vice chairman of the Lower House’s committee on public information, declined to be interviewed when sought for comment by the PCIJ.

Asked to comment on Bataoil’s withdrawal, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, the bill’s main author, had only this to say: “I thank him.”

Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP) chairman Mike Alquinto welcomed the development but reiterated their group’s position on the bill.

“The call of PCP is still the same; the bill should be scrapped from the committee’s (public information) agenda,” said Alquinto.

Last Tuesday, photojournalists and freedom of expression advocates massed up at the South Gate of the Batasang Pambansa Compound to dramatize their opposition to the bill. Alquinto had said that there are already existing laws and provisions in the Constitution that protect every citizen’s right to privacy.

“We do not need this bill. If this bill is passed into law, this will only be used to harass, and file cases against us who are only doing our job in giving out information to the public,” Alquinto said.

Rodriguez had earlier told PCIJ that the bill was already history. However, in a copy of the letter he sent to the Lower House’s committee on rules Rodriguez stated that he is only “re-committing” the bill back to the committee of public information for further deliberation. Only this time, media organizations opposing the bill would be invited in the committee discussions.

Support snowballs

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), earlier, had sounded alarm bells to warn that the measure, once passed into law, could drag the entire country back to the dark ages in terms of the right to free press and expression.

“In an era where technology is quickly breaking down the obstacles that hamper the flow of information and expressions, which are the bedrock of democracy, HB 4807 could return us to the dark ages and worse, be used as a weapon of suppression and repression,” NUJP chairperson Roweana Paraan.

While the NUJP agrees that all citizens are entitled to privacy, Paraan added, the Philippine Constitution has, in fact, guaranteed such right in all matter that are personal and have nothing to do with public interest. However, she said, the intent of the bill is so broad that it is likely to be used as another “weapon for the criminal and the corrupt to escape accountability.”

A REPORTER takes a "selfie" of himself outside the gates of the House of Congress in Quezon City, Philippines | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

A REPORTER takes a “selfie” of himself outside the gates of the House of Congress in Quezon City, Philippines | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has weighed in on the measure and has joined its local affiliate—NUJP—in calling for the authors of HB 4807 to withdraw the bill and for the members of the Lower House to vote against it should the bill not be withdrawn.

“The impact that the so-dubbed anti-selfie bill will have on media freedom and expression in the Philippines is evident. Not only does the law have implications for media institutions and journalists, but the impacts will be felt across the country and hinder the growth of citizen journalism, which has an integral role in future media environments,” Jane Worthington, IFJ Asia Pacific Acting Director, said.

IFJ is the world’s largest organization of journalists. First established in 1926, it was relaunched in 1946 and again, in its present form, in 1952. To date, IFJ represents around 600,000 members in 134 countries.

Not an ‘Anti-Selfie Bill’

In the letter, Rodriguez’ reason for re-committing the bill was because “malicious and uninformed statements of some members of the House of Representatives has been mistakenly dubbed as the ‘Anti-Selfie Bill’ and has been met with strong opposition particularly by the media.”

For his part, Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Karlos Zarate said there was nothing malicious in labelling HB 4807 as an “Anti-Selfie Bill.”

“You have to call it (HB4807) for what it really is so that it will be understood immediately. The definition of intrusion of privacy under the bill is so broad that even an innocuous selfie with public figures accidentally caught in the background would be liable for intrusion of privacy,” said Zarate.

Zarate enjoined his colleagues in the lower house to reconsider since the bill “will create a chilling effect not only to the mainstream media practitioners but also citizen journalists.”

“Besides, we have more than enough laws that protect our right to privacy,” he added.

Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares, on the other hand, said that even the media covering the Lower House did not know about the bill until it was brought to their attention.

“True to the intent of the bill, it was filed privately. Very private ‘yung pagkapasa nya and nobody really knew until the photojournalists came to my office that fateful day (August 12),” Colmenares said.

With Bataoil’s withdrawal of support, those who are left listed as the bill’s co-authors are: Cebu 3rd District Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, Buhay partylist Rep. Jose Atienza, Bulacan 4th District Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica, and Misamis Occidental 1st District Rep. Jorge Almonte.

Almonte also chairs the committee on public information.



IN THIS series, we share with you PCIJ’s databases on the wealth, campaign contributions and spending, and social network of elected government officials of the Philippines.

Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Aquilino Martin Pimentel, and Antonio Trillanes IV — all political allies of the Liberal Party coalition — have figured prominently in a Senate subcommittee investigation into the alleged receipt of kickbacks from public contracts by Vice-President Jejomar Binay (See our report Binay, by the Numbers).

On the Public Profiles section of PCIJ’s Money Politics Online website, official asset records show that Cayetano’s net worth whas risen by nearly half in 2011 to P23.2 million, from only P15.9 million in 2010.

Cayetano’s career in politics has spanned two decades. He started out as councilor in his family’s bailiwick of Taguig City in 1992, became vice mayor in 1995, and won three consecutive terms as congressman of Pateros City from 1998 to 2007. Cayetano was elected senator in 2007 and ran for re-election in May 2013.

Click the photo to go to the Public Profiles page of Sen. Cayetano.

SENATOR Allan Peter S. Cayetano | Photo from senate.gov.ph

SENATOR ALLAN PETER S. CAYETANO Photo from senate.gov.ph

Senator Pimentel, on the other hand, has so far filed two Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) since he assumed office as senator. His net worth stood at P17.67 million as of August 2011; it dropped to P17.08 million in his December 2011 SALN.

In August 2011, Aquilino Martin ‘Koko’ L. Pimentel III became the 12th senator of the 15th Congress, after winning an electoral protest that he filed in May 2007 before the Senate Electoral Tribunal against then sitting senator Miguel Zubiri. The tribunal’s recount established that Pimentel got 257,000 more votes than Zubiri in the 2007 elections.

From 1995 to 1998, Pimentel served as commissioner for Mindanao of the National Youth Commission, under then President Joseph Estrada. Pimentel has practiced law and taught at the Far Eastern University, De La Salle University, and the University of the East.

Click on the photo to go the Public Profiles page of Sen. Pimentel.


SEN. AQUILINO PIMENTEL | Photo from senate.gov.ph

Former coup plotter and ex-soldier Antonio Trillanes IV declared minimal gains in net worth tfrom 2007 to 2011.

His liabilities, however, soared from zero in 2007 to P1.6 million in 2009 and then to P6.8 million in 2011. His net worth, as of his latest SALN, stands at P3.9 million, making him the poorest – in terms of declared wealth — of the 23 incumbent senators of the 16th Congress.

He is known as one of the leaders of the group of soldiers that staged the Oakwood Mutiny in July 2003 and the Peninsula Manila siege in November 2007.

Trillanes ran for senator in the May 2007 elections and won despite being detained in Camp Crame. His petition for provisional release was later granted by the court after President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III issued Proclamation No. 75 that granted amnesty to military officers involved in coup attempts during the Arroyo administration.

Click on the photo to go the Public Profiles page of Sen. Trillanes.


SEN. ANTONIO TRILLANES IV | Photo from senate.gov.ph

From the PCIJ Files:


IN THIS series, we will share with you PCIJ’s databases on the wealth, campaign contributions and spending, and social network of elected government officials of the Philippines.

Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay is in the news (or in the hot seat, to be more precise) in the wake of allegations by local executives and a former political ally and vice-mayor that he had supposedly rigged multi-million-peso bids for public contracts in Makati City where Binay had served as mayor until 2010.

More from the PCIJ Files:
Elections, pork, wealth, and Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

* Binay bags P200-M PDAF: Pork train to Malacanang?, July 22, 2012
* SALN: Good law, bad results, March 14, 2012
* Regarding VP Binay, Jan. 13, 2012
* The Comelec in Makati City: Conjugal toilet for ‘fire-station’ crew, May 8, 2013
* Parties of Binay, Enrile, Jinggoy, Imelda defy law, July 3, 2011
* Roxas, Binay, Legarda splurge millions on ads, March 18, 2010
* Top bets for prez, VP, party-lists in orgy of omissions, half-truths, Aug. 10-12, 2010
* Makati’s mayor fortifies his fort, April 2, 2007

Binay, who rose to political power after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolt, has been accused by Engineer Mario Hechanova, former head of the Makati General Services Department, of influencing public bids in the city for his favored contractors. Hechanova had told a Senate hearing that he was given at least P200,000 in monthly allowance to help in the rigging of project bids.

Under the Plunder Law or Republic Act No. 7080, the aggregate amount or total value of a public officer’s alleged ill-gotten wealth should be at least P50 million. Originally set at P75 million, the reference amount was reduced in 1993. Ironically, the law was passed after former President Ferdinand E. Marcos was ousted amid claims that he and his wife, now Ilocos Sur rep.Ma. Imelda Romualdez Maros, had amassed billions of pesos in ill-gotten wealth. Binay was one of many human rights lawyers during the martial law period.

VICE-PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY, left, with President Benigno S. Aquino III | PCOO Photo

VICE-PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY, left, with President Benigno S. Aquino III | PCOO Photo


What is the wealth of Binay?

In 17 years as an elective official, Binay’s wealth has grown over 500 percent, or from P8.8 million in 1994 to P57.9 million in 2011.

Binay reported the highest uptick in his net worth six months before he took office as vice president in June 2010. Between December 2009 and June 2010, Binay’s personal assets grew by P13.4 million, at the same time that he said he settled liabilities worth P566,665.95.

Know more about Binay’s wealth, campaign spending and contributions, and his social connections in the Public Profiles section of PCIJ’s Money Politics Online.