PCIJ 2023 YEARENDER

 

 

In the age of viral videos and clickbait headlines, they say long form journalism is dying. We certainly hope not.

We are encouraged by the attention that you’ve given to our reports this year, especially our stories on our core coverages such as campaign finance, press freedom, and good governance. 

Here are reports that got the attention of readers, social media users, partner newsrooms, and award bodies this year. 

Thank you for reading PCIJ! We will continue to bring you long form journalism and next year we promise to explore innovative ways to present our reports. Happy holidays!

 

Top illustration by Joseph Luigi Almuena

 

 

1. Villar companies’ request for multimillion tax amnesty 

 

Our investigative report on the P238.3-million accumulated tax deficiencies of Villar companies in Las Piñas City was hands down our most-read investigative report this year.  

PCIJ Fellow Camille Elemia showed that companies owned and managed by the Villar family asked for amnesty for unpaid real property taxes amounting to at least P71.6 million. Our report circulated on social media and was picked up by partner newsrooms and scores of opinion makers on YouTube. 

 

 

We have an update before the year ends. The council of Las Piñas City has denied the amnesty request, PCIJ has learned. 

Voting 6-2, the council on Nov. 6 adopted the joint report of the appropriation and ways and means committee recommending the denial of all tax amnesty requests made in 2023. Two abstained. 

 

 

2. Elections, campaign donations, and procurement of voting machines

 

Philippine elections are PCIJ’s obsession, especially the ties between money and politics. Your attention to our reports shows that you recognize the importance of the issue.

We regularly track who donated to the campaigns of winning candidates. This year, you paid attention to our story showing that at least six Marcos donors in the 2022 elections were given government posts

 

 

We got cheers from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility for this quick report. “By identifying other donors to the Marcos campaign in 2022 who have been given positions in government by the president, the report underscores the pattern of patronage politics and dynastic alliances from one administration to another,” CMFR said. 

We’re excited about the potential of a machine we developed with data science students of the Asian Institute of Management. It automates analyses of our historical data on campaign finance. It’s still a work in progress but it has a huge potential.

We are always in between elections in the Philippines. You paid attention to our roundtable with election watchdogs, where we enumerated necessary reforms as the country approaches the 2025 elections. You also followed our coverage of the barangay elections in October, and took keen interest in our report on a barangay with only two voters

 

 

We are now closely watching the procurement of new voting machines for 2025. Before the Christmas break, PCIJ reporter Cherry Salazar witnessed the Commission on Elections open the sole bid for the P19-billion project, but the elections body declared a failure of bidding.

 

 

 

3. Power grid operator NGCP billed CSR, PR expenses to consumers

 

PCIJ reporter Elyssa Lopez has been watching very closely the Energy Regulatory Commission’s investigation of the country’s power grid operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP). You paid attention to her report showing NGCP billing consumers up to P2.4 billion worth of corporate social responsibility and public relations expenses.

 

 

Shortly after our report was published, ERC released a preliminary report disallowing several of NGCP’s expenses, including those we mentioned in our story. We’re still waiting for the final decision on this big consumer issue. It could mean refunds in the coming years, determine what the NGCP can or cannot charge the consumers, and potentially bring down household electricity costs moving forward.

This report is part of PCIJ's energy transition series. In 2023, the Marcos Jr. administration oversaw the expansion of renewable energy and fossil fuels.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is expected to release the final draft of Philippine Energy Plan before the end of the year. Talks at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP 28 in Dubai, however, could influence the final version.

 

 

 

4. Martin Romualdez and press freedom

 

You paid attention to our reports on the Philippine media. One of our most clicked pages this year was the 2023 State of Press Freedom Report of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, which showed that the new administration of President Marcos “has not pulled away from the pattern showing state agents themselves actively going after the media.”

You also paid attention to our report, “Inquirer.net takes down story on Martin Romualdez’s reported funding of Tagalog course in Harvard.”

 

 

We noted that the House Speaker donated 10% of his net worth based on his latest available statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), but we also flagged the incident as the latest in a number of instances of Philippine news sites taking down reports on powerful politicians and businessmen.

“Media reporting on the takedown of stories are right to do so as these indicate pressures that the public should know about,” according to CMFR.

The CEO of the Inquirer Group of Companies, Sandy Prieto Romualdez, is married to the Speaker’s brother, Philip.

 

 

 

 

5. Perils of Facebook 

 

You paid attention to two PCIJ stories that showed the dangers of social media platform Facebook.

The report “Philippines confronts unlikely adversary in SCS row: Filipinos echoing ‘pro-Beijing’ narratives” by PCIJ Fellow Camille Elemia caused a stir on social media. The story identified, for the first time, the think tanks which security officials said had been peddling disinformation about the West Philippine Sea. 

 

 

Another PCIJ report that looked into the dangers lurking on Facebook was “Meet up agad: Filipino babies sold on Facebook as gov’t struggles to improve adoption process.”

The report by PCIJ Fellow Victoria Tulad showed how these Facebook pages were created faster than Facebook could deactivate them.

 

 

 

 

6. Trafficking, Inc.

 

We mourn the passing of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople, a long-time advocate for the rights of overseas Filipino workers. She helped us complete our reports for the Trafficking Inc. series of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which examined the networks of companies, people and business practices that draw profit from cross-border labor trafficking and sex trafficking. 

In “OFWs are harassed – Jessica got jail time – over loans they’re forced to make to get jobs abroad,” PCIJ reporter Cherry Salazar underscored the urgency of a comprehensive government solution to address the rampant fleecing by recruitment agencies of Filipinos who are desperate to find overseas jobs amid lack of opportunities in the country. 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Plastic waste

 

In September, PCIJ reported how the implementation of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law remained short. The law requires the country’s biggest plastic-producing companies to pay to collect and recycle their materials, but PCIJ learned that companies continued to exhibit a “wait-and-see” attitude on how the law would be implemented. 

Three months since the publication of our report, we do not see any increased commitment. As of Dec. 5, only 798 of the 4,000 enterprises covered by the law have registered their EPR program, casting doubt on the country’s ability to tackle its growing plastic waste problem. 

 

 

 

 

8. CMMA’s Best Investigative Report

 

A series we published in 2022, “The Last Harvest” by PCIJ Fellow Paul Peñaflor, was awarded the Best Investigative Report at the 44th Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA). 

The series showed how urbanization and rampant land conversion killed farmers’ livelihoods in Cavite province. It also showed how the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) project hastened the  death of farming  as light industries and rapid urbanization displaced farming in the province.

 

 

Another story from 2022 that got attention this year is the series on online lending by PCIJ Fellow Aileen Macalintal.

Her reports were cited in a Senate resolution that led to an inquiry into the harassment and unfair debt collection practices by digital loan sharks. 

 

 

 

9. ‘Love the Philippines' contracts

 

The “Love the Philippines” campaign of the Department of Tourism (DOT) was one of the country’s biggest controversies this year. Why? Stock footage from other countries was used to promote the country. 

Amid the uproar, DOT said it terminated the contract with ad firm DDB Philippines. But PCIJ’s investigative report showed that the ad firm had several contracts with the government. Our report “Love the Philippines' ad firm won at least P187M worth of tourism promotion contracts” broke down the three multi-million contracts won by DDB Philippines with the DOT and the Tourism Promotions Board. 

 

 

DOT would later clarify that the two contracts with DOT were terminated. 

 

 

 

10. Marawi rehabilitation

 

We continued to call attention to the rehabilitation of Marawi City. It’s been six years since the siege destroyed the city center, but thousands of residents remained displaced.

“PCIJ’s reports should jumpstart a collective review of this massive example of government neglect,” according to CMFR.

 

 

 

 

“More reports should follow PCIJ’s lead to kindle greater national solidarity with the people of Marawi, which they need so they can face the future with hope,” it added. END

 


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