April 25, 2012 · Posted in: General
SHEILA S. CORONEL, the founding Executive Director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and currently the director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism of Columbia University in New York, has started her own blog.
And true to form, Coronel chose to write about something very close to her heart. Her blog, Watchdog Watcher, is her way of “exploring the changing landscape of global investigative journalism.”
“I’ve taught journalists in Asia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere and am an avid watcher of investigative reporting,” Coronel writes in her blog. “This blog draws from my work, both past and present. It looks at how watchdog reporting is being done around the world; it also contains reflections on what I think is a golden moment for investigative reporting, but also a moment fraught with challenges and threats.”
Her blog draws from her long experiences as an investigative journalist in the Philippines and one of the founding members of the PCIJ, as well as from her experience teaching and interacting with journalists and journalism students at one of the world’s premier journalism schools. In her first post on March 15 this year entitled A golden moment for Global Muckraking, Coronel wrote of how advances in technology and social media as well as emerging democracy movements in previously restricted societies have opened so many doors for investigative journalists, doors that should be explored further by any journalist worth his salt. This is the time, Coronel said, for journalists to take advantage of all these opportunities to collaborate across borders and tap into databases that have long been out of reach.
“From Bahrain to Burma, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, savvy muckrakers are using blogs, mobile phones, Google maps, and social media to expose the excesses of the powerful,” she wrote. “Watchdog sites have taken advantage of the Internet to report about corruption and organized criome. Moreover, journalists overseas are mining information from online public records and databases to uncover stories that would previously have been buried in secrecy.”
Her April 7 blog entry Follow the Money (and the houses) rang with much more familiarity for Filipinos, as she spoke of her experiences in investigating the mansions and mistresses of then President Joseph Estrada. In that entry, Coronel spoke of how persistence and hard work in tracking down and analyzing documents cracked open the case of Estrada, paving the way for his impeachment and eventual removal from office.
“I didn’t know much about real estate until 2000 when my colleagues and I at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism were checking out rumors that then President Joseph Estrada — a former movie actor famous for his boozing and womanizing — was building fabulous houses for a string of mistresses. It turned out that the houses were just the most visible manifestations of the deep-seated corruption that was taking place during Estrada’s reign,” she wrote in her blog.
“We found that in just the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency, Estrada had used shell companies to purchase real estate worth about $40 million, more than 25 times his declared net worth. Impeachment charges were filed against Estrada after our exposé, and he was ousted in a popular uprising before the trial was concluded,” Coronel said.
Coronel however went further by citing other outstanding examples of how investigative journalism worldwide exposed the trail of houses being collected by the rich and powerful of the world, from a US senator to a former prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“I’ve become house-conscious and have kept an informal tally of officials around the world whose crimes and misdeameanors have come to light because of their mania for mansions (cars are a close second, especially Ferraris and Bentleys, followed by private jets and yachts). Whether in the United States or Nigeria, South Africa or Bosnia, public officials have a penchant for using the people’s money to acquire real property. It wasn’t just Imelda Marcos who suffered from a publicly-financed edifice complex,” Coronel says in her blog entry.
Her most recent post on April 23 showed how journalists from the US and Hong Kong “mined corporate registries, exchange filings and property records” in order to trace the worldwide wealth trail of Bo Xilai, a recently purged Chinese Communist Party official.