Monday, February 14, 2011

Whistleblowing and truth-telling

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

The national association of human resource management professionals, People Management Association of the Philippines, came out with a statement over the weekend on the critical role whistleblowing and, consequently, whistleblowers, play in the fight against graft and corruption in the country. The statement is printed in full at the end of this piece.

The statement is timely and relevant in light of the observation made by some people that the ongoing Senate and House hearings on alleged irregularities in the Armed Forces of the Philippines be stopped on account of the death of former Secretary Angelo Reyes.

Should the hearings be stopped now? I vehemently disagree. Our senators and congressmen should continue with the inquiry. However, I do think that the hearings can be conducted in a more respectable, reasonable, courteous manner.

In short, we should be able to conduct hearings where witnesses invited supposedly to “shed light on the issues” don’t get browbeaten, insulted, threatened—in short, treated like criminals. The same is true for whistleblowers and officials accused of wrongdoing. I think hearings can become so much more productive if people learn to do in a more temperate way.

I also think that our legislators should do a better job at making sure that something concrete comes out of these hearings. I know. This is like beating a dead house or trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. The reality is that these hearings rarely get things done in terms of actually putting the guilty behind jail although they make a darned good job shaming them in public. Unfortunately, shaming them in public is never enough because not everyone has the same tolerance for public embarrassment.

I am more concerned, however, with the fate of whistleblowers. What will happen to Heidi Mendoza and George Rabusa in the next few months is something that worries me because I fear that they will become yet another Mary “Rosebud” Ong or even Jun Lozada.

Whistleblowing has negative connotation in our country. Very often, the general assumption is that both whistleblowers and the parties they accuse of wrongdoing are of the same ilk—“parepareho lang sila.” The common perception is that people squeal on anomalous transactions because they were shortchanged or double-crossed. It doesn’t help that most—not all, certainly—of those who turn whistleblowers are often part of the whole stinking rotting mess who simply had a sudden change of heart, or have been coerced into becoming a reluctant witness. We’re not a people supportive of whistleblowers. Our culture doesn’t look kindly on snitches.

Thus, whistleblowers, in addition to having to deal with ostracism and isolation—being avoided like the plague—have to contend with humiliation and harassment. Very often, they are pilloried publicly and their reputations are blown to smithereens by supporters of the people they accuse of wrongdoing in an effort to destroy their credibility.

These and other reasons should compel our legislators to enact a law protecting whistleblowers. This is a tall order, of course, given the role that our legislators play in exploiting whistleblowers for various political means. But like I always say, there is always hope because we may have the worst kind of scum as legislators in this country but we also happen to have the best minds in this country sitting in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

The following is the PMAP statement entitled “Whistleblowing and Truth-telling”

“The allegations of graft and corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines have once again brought to the surface the urgency of boldly pursuing mechanisms to curb systemic corruption in our country.

The bravery shown by former Commission on Audit Auditor Heidi Mendoza and former AFP Budget Officer Retired Lieutenant Colonel George Rabusa underscores the critical role of whistleblowers in the fight against corruption. Whistleblowers not only help curb corrupt practices, they also embolden other citizens to emulate their example and dispel the notion that integrity in public service is a thing of the past.

However, we are deeply concerned that our existing legal and social frameworks are inadequate and ineffective in encouraging whistleblowing and protecting whistleblowers. Given the extent of corruption in the country and the seeming high tolerance for irregularities, there is an urgent and critical need to ensure that we have a supportive environment that encourages, protects, and rewards whistleblowers. It is important that those who expose corrupt practices are not penalized for telling the truth and are protected from retaliatory attacks. We ought to legitimize and make it easy for people to speak out against illegal and irregular transactions.

Simply put, no one will come forward if the costs of telling the truth far outweigh the benefits; more so if it will imperil the safety and security of the individual and that of his or her family.

We strongly appeal to the President to certify the bill that protects and rewards whistleblowers as a priority measure.

We strongly appeal to our legislators to ensure that the courage and bravery of whistleblowers such as Mendoza and Rabusa are not wasted and that the officials accused of graft and corruption are persecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.

We call on all our leaders both in the public and private sectors to help foster a culture that makes truth-telling a legitimate and socially rewarding task. Corruption thrives when citizens tolerate irregularities and do not report them.

Whistleblowing is an institutionalized practice in the private sector as part of sound corporate governance; the same must be the norm in the public sector. Our inability to institutionalize mechanisms to curb graft and corruption effectively has far-reaching implications on our competitiveness as a nation. Integrity is the bedrock of sound people management and development practices.”

No comments: