News Analysis Reforms

Whistleblowers Anonymous

Whistleblowers in the Philippines have been assured that their identity will not be discovered. Fear that they could be put in peril for spilling the beans about corruption, anywhere within the landscape of government – a fear, it’s believed, that has prevented many corrupt practices going unreported – has been removed with the launch last month of an anonymous online portal for the website of the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporations (GCG).

An exhaustive 2014 report produced by the Washington DC-based research, advisory, and advocacy organisation, Global Financial Integrity, showed that the Philippine economy loses US$132.9 billion annually. And a large chunk of that comes from within the public sector – the Customs Department being a major contributor: 72% of illicit outflows investigated in that study were the result of “manipulating trade transactions or mis-invoicing”. The private-sector’s contribution came largely from the proceeds of crime (money-laundering, drug trafficking, prostitution, etc.) and tax evasion (US$23 billion-worth in 21 years, from 1990 to 2011).

The GCG’s General Counsel, Christian Castillo, said that the portal ensures “100% anonymity”. On logging-on, government employees and private citizens are automatically issued with a PIN-code number. No personal information is required. That number can then be used by the complainant to track the current status of the case and, if required, update earlier submitted information. Attachments, documents for example, can also be made on the site. Castillo hopes that the facility will remove the fear of being exposed which the GCG has identified as the biggest disincentive to whistleblowers. He urges the public to use the portal as their primary reporting channel.

Senate President, Franklin Drilon, who spoke at the launch of the portal, believes that the initiative can provide a huge boost to rid the government of corrupt officials and employees. “By having concerned individuals who are not afraid to expose or disclose the wrongdoing, our fight against corruption will have a better chance of succeeding,” he added.

Hitherto in the Philippines, when a whistleblower has been identified, that person is subjected to an onslaught of social-media ridicule or worse – death threats, either against them or their family, often resulting in renunciation of the allegations and sometimes relocation. Where big money and big reputations are at stake, many times the death threats are carried out. One example:

In 2013, Chief Inspector Romeo Ricalde, the head of a Special Operations Unit was ambushed in Barangay Pansol, Quezon City and shot to death – twenty eight 5.56mm rifle cartridges were found at the crime scene. It had been a professional hit. Ricalde’s wife, Bernadette, had blown the whistle on a number of Senate and House of Representatives members whom she claimed had received some PHP200 million in re-routed payments from Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) – identified as part of the PHP 10 billion pork barrel scam. (The PDAF is a discretionary fund for members of Congress to provide small-scale infrastructure or community projects in their home provinces).