Protecting the Whistleblowers

Government officials and employees, including the President himself, acknowledge that graft and corruption is rampant in government. “Graft and corruption become very prevalent in the country making the Philippines as one of the most corrupt countries in Asia.” This acknowledgment is contained in Senate Bill 1063, filed by Senator Manny Villar, proposing a “Whistleblower Act of 2010”. Graft and corruption, according to the Villar Bill, “will be lessened if not eradicated”.

Is this the antidote to graft and corruption? We have many laws and regulations that are meant to curb graft and corruption. We have a number of whistleblowers, each one with different reason for coming out and spilling the beans, so to speak. What is common among the whistleblowers is their acknowledgment that the life of a whistleblower is extremely difficult (Gov. Singson and Joey de Venecia are the “luckier” ones). You end up hiding, saying goodbye to your normal life, just like Jun Lozada. Or you end up dead, just like Boy Mayor. Data gathered shows that more than 80% of the whistleblowers “experienced difficulties in whistleblowing.”

See poll below

The basic problem with whistleblowing, as with graft and corruption that it seeks to eradicate, is the strength of our institutions. In our society where persons may be larger and stronger than institutions, or where institutions are systematically weakened, how can a whistleblower expect protection from these institutions? Related to this is the people’s trust and confidence in the institutions. Let’s start with the most obvious — the Ombudsman, with the Constitutional duty as protector of the people, and the police, with also the same purpose. Do you trust these institutions that are meant to protect the people?

Even with a potential windfall of millions of pesos as reward, or simply the principled stand to tell the truth, are you willing to be a whistleblower?

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Let’s tackle the three bills pending in the Senate that seek to spell out the requirements for whistleblowers, as well as provided for the protection of qualified whistleblowers.

Who is a “whistleblower”?

A whistleblower, as defined in Senate Bill 2112 sponsored by Senator Chiz Escudero, is “an informant or any person who has personal knowledge or access to data of any information or event involving acts constituting corruption and chooses to voluntarily disclose the same.” Senator Escudero Senate Bill 2112, which proposes a “Whistleblower Protection Act”, provides for protection, security and benefits of whistleblowers.

The Villar Bill, which proposes a “Whistleblower Act of 2010”, defines a whistleblower as “an informant or any person who has privileged or personal knowledge or access to date, events or information and who shall deliberately disclose any individual, collective or organized conduct of any public officer/s.”

Acts covered

The coverage of the Chiz Bill is graft and corruption, similar to that of the Villar Bill. Senate Bill 1883, filed by Senator Miriam Santiago, has a wider coverage. In includes graft and corruption, as well as any act that is “fraudulent or criminal” or “incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health and safety or welfare or protection of the environment.”

Rationale of the Whistleblower Law

The Chiz Bill, according to the explanatory note that accompanied it, is meant “to encourage citizens to stand up and report alleged violations of law, improper use of governmental office, gross waste of funds, or any otheron the abuse or gross neglect of duty on the part of an agency, public officer or employee, and private entity.” Protecting the whistleblowers would “strengthen accountability and reduce corruption in the public and private sectors.”

On the other hand, the Santiago Bill acknowledges that whistleblowers are “the primary vehicle through which misconduct is exposed. But witnesses to misconduct can expect retaliation for speaking out. Those who ‘blow the whistle’ are most often fired and become ostracized from friends and co-workers. They are accused of having a grievance with their employer or trying to profit from their accusation. The fear generated by such retaliation creates a chilling effect on the willingness of the people to come forward.”

Qualified Whistleblower

The whistleblower must be “qualified whistleblower”, which means that he should be “qualified and admitted into the Whistleblower’s Program of the office of the Ombudsman.” In other words, the whistleblower must be admited by the Ombudsman upon showing of certain requisites: (1) The disclosure is voluntary, in writing and under oath; (2) The disclosure relates to acts constituting graft and corruption; and (3) The information to be disclosed is admissible in evidence and that it is sufficient to sustain a finding of probable cause.

Protection to Whistleblowers

In addition to confidentiality of information/identity, as well as the provision of security or admission into the witness protection program, the proposed law protects the whistleblower against retaliatory actions by the employer, including reprimand, punitive transfers, and undue poor performance reviews.

It also punishes anyone who prevents or dissuades the whistleblower from, among others, attending, assisting or testifying before any investigating or proceeding. Violators are penalized with imprisonment.

Here’s the kicker — qualified whistleblowers are entitled, under the Chiz Bill, to a financial reward of up to 5 Million pesos. To sweeten the deal, for cases such as plunder, forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth, bribery, malversation and damage, the whistleblower is entitled to an additional reward of ten percent (10%) of the amount recovered by final judgment. If a whistleblower was present in the graft case against former President Estrada, he would receive at least 74 Million Pesos, which could go up if the interests and the value of the real property are included.

Antidote to graft and corruption?

I have no doubt that the intention behind the whistleblower bills is laudable. The lawmakers who are sponsors of these bills — Senators Escudero, Defensor-Santiago and Villar — are doing their job in crafting laws to address the problem of graft and corruption. Of course, these bills are still up for debate, both in the floors of Congress and here, for the people to express their thoughts. Let hear from you.

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