May 3, 2013 · Posted in: 2013 Elections, Access to Information, Civil Society, Congress Watch, Freedom of Information, Governance, Investigative Reports, Media, Money Politics, Noynoy Watch, Online Research, Paper Chase
TODAY, World Press Freedom Day, PCIJ welcomes you all to MoneyPolitics.PCIJ.org, a citizen’s resource, research, and analysis tool on elections, public funds, and governance in the Philippines.
MoneyPolitics, the boldest venture yet of PCIJ into the realm of the unknown and the intractable — big data, open data, and data journalism — started with a simple dream.
Few big, serial donors betting on poll bets since ’98
Check out our latest report on MoneyPolitics Online!
The pool of donors of the national candidates in the Philippines remains an exclusive club of a few big donors who come from old elite families, big business entities, affluent law firms, and even some parties who have secured contracts and appointive positions with the government, a PCIJ review of public records on the last five elections reveals.
Even fewer still are the repeat donors and families of donors who may be called the frequent spenders or high rollers in national elections since 1998.
In contrast, the number of citizens donating small amounts to the candidates — either out of faith in the politics or policies that the latter espouse, or for benign or self-serving reasons — remains negligible.
Five years ago PCIJ had wished: Could we build an online platform of all the stories, source documents, and data files, the vertical and the horizontal, in hard and soft copies, and from both public and private sources, that the PCIJ has amassed through the years?
Could we develop a more layered, more interactive, more current i-site.ph, one bigger by depth and breadth of source documents, and with relevant hyper local data on all our towns and cities?
Could we put in an online databank all the editorial, research, training, and multimedia portfolio of the PCIJ and offer it as possibly a good journalistic record of politics and governance since 1989, the year PCIJ was born?
And so, as is usual with the PCIJ’s multitude of 11 staff personnel, we set down to hard work.
Step 1 involved auditing and organizing our content so we know what we could upload, and by what order of priority.
Step 2 led us to long hours of scanning, digitizing, and aggregating our content by time period, format, source, and policy focus.
Step 3 prompted us to acquire more source documents to bridge gaps in data. That meant repeated visits to and multiple requests filed with many public agencies so they would to give us more documents.
Step 4 entailed encoding and repurposing raw source documents into datasets in excel or spreadsheet formats that allow analysis, sorting, and stringing up with other datasets.
Step 5 required the entry of tech and platform architects who could help scrape, script, and render the datasets in an online platform.
Our initial harvest, of which only a small portion is now uploaded on MoneyPolitics, is a massive cache of documents — 57 gigabytes of unique datasets on about 6,500 public officials, and on public finance, governance, and elections, dating as far back as 1998.
Many more steps later, MoneyPolitics is now online. It is a project that has tested the limits of our patience and skills, and in the case of some staff members, put on hold or on second priority, relationships with lovers and loved ones; or in the case of one, the search for a boyfriend; and for another, plans to have a baby.
MoneyPolitics is not the story of the PCIJ, however. It is the story of Philippine government and politics, in the last two decades told in data, digits, and documents.
It is big data on an online platform that the PCIJ hopes could serve all citizens a resource, research, and analysis tool.
It is an online tracker, roadmap, and virtual archive of the public records most vital to promoting transparency, accountability, and integrity in government.
Just as important, PCIJ built MoneyPolitics to promote the Filipino citizen’s right to information and meaningful participation in governance.
MoneyPolitics connects the dots, loops in the stats, and the backward and the forward links, of stories that form the core of PCIJ’s work — how government spends public funds; the wealth of elective and appointive officials; campaign finance and elections; public contracts and contractors; politics and political families; and progress and regress in the national household. In gist, how money drives and defines policy and governance in the country.
Why is PCIJ so hinged on data and documents, you might ask.
In truth, PCIJ is obsessed with them because we believe they could help foster a few public goals we deem important for good journalism, good citizenship, and good governance to take firm root.
The first is numeracy. We like to boast that the literacy rate of Filipinos — simple, not functional, literacy — is among the highest in the world.
Many of us are not as numerate, however. We generally scorn or stay away from numbers. We write stories swimming in sound bytes and with just a dab of context data. A majority of us journalists would readily admit that we went into J school because it requires only one Math class, or sometimes none at all
But the most critical issues that impede good governance and development in the Philippines are issues writ large in numbers. Through MoneyPolitics, PCIJ hopes to vest numbers with more value and meaning when we write about our people.
The second goal we wish to promote is good recordkeeping in all our public agencies. Good recordkeeping, it is said, is a pillar of good governance. MoneyPolitics afforded us ground-level interaction with the people and agencies holding public records, and from these, a few observations have emerged.
Some public agencies are better and smarter at keeping records, and more open about sharing these on request of the media. Some public agencies have tons of time-series datasets kept up to date but other public agencies are not even aware these exist.
Archiving, organizing, updating, and sharing data between and among public agencies, and with the citizens and the media — these open government practices have few excellent practitioners for now.
While some national agencies deserve good marks for voluntarily uploading documents online, these are typically in html, PDF or flat, and thus unsearchable or unconnected, formats. They overwhelm citizens with numbers often bereft of meaning, or hardly given to sorting and analysis. In most other agencies, however, especially those on the regional and local levels, getting documents is an activity akin to pulling molars from a toothless tiger.
Just as important, MoneyPolitics does not intend to replace the work of government or strip its agencies of their mandate and duty in law to uphold transparency and to respect the people’s right to know.
To be sure, MoneyPolitics is a project with many conspirators.
They include all the writers, editors, researchers, fellows, and support staff who had served with PCIJ from its birth in 1989.
PCIJ could not acknowledge enough the work of its founding executive director, Sheila S. Coronel (now director of the Tony Stabille Center for Investigative Reporting at Columbia University in New York); the late Alecks Pabico, PCIJ’s “self-taught” and first multimedia director; former PCIJ deputy executive director Jaileen Jimeno and former PCIJ librarian Ogie Sarmiento, who took the first steps in building the PCIJ digital library; and Cecile C. A. Balgos, whose razor-sharp pen never fails to lend polish to PCIJ’s editorial work.
PCIJ’s current team works hard and well precisely to deserve their legacy. Through MoneyPolitics, we wish to honor their work.
Credit for what MoneyPolitics is today goes singly and together to Karol Ilagan, PCIJ research director; Markku Seguerra, PCIJ platform architect; Rowena Caronan, PCIJ researcher-writer; Ed Lingao, PCIJ multimedia director; Miguel Gamara, PCIJ librarian; Fernando Cabigao Jr., PCIJ researcher-writer; and Charmaine Manay and Rosemarie Corpin, PCIJ part-time researchers.
MoneyPolitics would not have been born without the appropriate provisions budgeted by PCIJ admin manager Dona Lopez and her deputy, Yoly Nicolas.
The work of our training and writing fellows continues to inform MoneyPolitics. In turn, MoneyPolitics could further inform the seminar-workshops that PCIJ conducts through its training director Che de los Reyes, and her deputy, Edz de la Cruz.
PCIJ multimedia producer Cong Corrales and his partner Ed Lingao have also produced a video documentary on the making of MoneyPolitics.
Most important of all, PCIJ would like to thank the Open Society Foundations (OSF) for believing in our dream, and for being gracious enough to help make it happen. In 2011, the OSF extended a $100,000-grant across three years for PCIJ to develop MoneyPolitics, the online resource tool.
What next? MoneyPolitics is a work in progress. We are proceeding on to Stages 2 and 3 to assure a steady fresh harvest of data sets, full profiles of local elective officials, and more hyper local content on all the provinces, towns, and cities of the Philippines.
A demand-driven access to information initiative, an experiment in ground-up development of an online database of public records, a data journalism project — that is PCIJ’s MoneyPolitics Online.
We hope to share the experience and help replicate it in public agencies that are repositories of documents, in agencies vested with integrity and good governance mandates, and among civil society groups or schools with advocacies and practice hinged on data and documents.
A fuller, deeper MoneyPolitics 2.0 or even 3.0 in 2016? We could not stop dreaming of better things to come. Please help us make it happen again.
For now, happy surfing, everyone!