2012 Mcluhan Awardee Lynda Jumilla with Canadian Ambassador Christopher Thornley
DESPITE EXPECTATIONS that the high profile impeachment trial of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona would blow away the culture of secrecy and usher a new regime of government transparency, many government officials still cling to their old and opaque ways, says broadcast journalist and 2012 Marshall Mcluhan awardee Lynda Jumilla.
Jumilla and five other journalists, including Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism executive director Malou Mangahas and PCIJ fellow Carolyn Arguillas, were honored during the 16th Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Excellence in Journalism at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati on Friday. The yearly awards serve as a forum for senior investigative journalists to share their experiences with journalism teachers, students, and civil society organizations. Jumilla, a broadcast journalist from ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, was selected by the Embassy of Canada as this year’s Marshall Mcluhan fellow.
During the forum, Jumilla pointed out how many had expected the trial, conviction, and ouster of Corona for failure to disclose all his assets in his statement of assets liabilities and net worth to open doors to more government transparency and accountability.
However, Jumilla said this failed to materialize, as the congressmen who were primarily responsible for impeaching Corona have until now refused to make public their SALNs. This, even though 188 congressmen had signed the impeachment complaint against Corona accusing him of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of the public trust for failing to publicly disclose his real assets. “Congress has become more adamant not to release the SALNs,” Jumilla said during the forum.
The other journalists in the JVO panel also spoke of the difficulties in investigating corruption because of the continuing culture of secrecy in the government.
Mangahas said journalists and civil society must remember that “good governance is linked to good record keeping,” and that citizens should expect their government to improve the way it keeps its records and make these accessible to the general public. “Experience shows that the more we demand that our officials release more records, they behave better,” Mangahas said. “If citizens don’t join in and demand better governance, we will see more and more corruption.”
Carolyn Arguillas of MindaNews spoke of the difficulty of community journalists in accessing data in the countryside, where data is often unavailable because of the lack of infrastructure, or because of the refusal of prominent local officials to make themselves transparent and accountable. In Maguindanao, for example, Arguillas said there has been virtually no real record keeping of the expenses of the local government.
Dana Batnag, local correspondent for the Japanese news agency Jiji Press, stressed that reporters should have longer memories since many politicians who have been implicated in past corruption scandals have learned to rely on the public’s very short memory. “We have to remember the corruption stories we do about them, and use them as backgrounder, so that they do not get away with it the next time,” Batnag said.
GMA Network’s Jiggy Manicad spoke of the need for reporters to exercise more caution with conflict of interest stories and stories coming from potentially polluted sources.
Carla Gomez, editor of the Visayan Daily Star, stressed that not all investigative reports have to be “huge investigative pieces” for these to make a difference in people’s lives. For example, Gomez said “smaller stories” such as corruption in the purchase of medicines for small-town hospitals could mean a lot more to a community than a high-profile piece on national corruption. “The smaller picture matters a lot too,” Gomez said. “They mean a lot to people. They are not huge investigative pieces, but they are still pieces that change lives.”