What do Jun Lozada, Sandra Cam, Vidal Doble, and Primitivo Mijares have in common? They’re all whistleblowers whose guts enabled the nation to know about illegalities happening either in their offices or in their line of business.
Jun Lozada was of course the trusted associate of former National Economic and Development Authority Secretary-General Romulo Neri who was privy to acts of corruption in projects that passed the scrutiny of the NEDA. He is remembered as the one asked by Neri to inform proponents of the botched NBN-ZTE deal to “moderate their greed”. Such moderation was required apparently because the amount of “tong-pats” or padding for the project was equivalent to 100 percent of the cost of the proposed network.
Sandra Cam was the one who called our attention to presidential son Mikey Arroyo’s benefitting from the illegal numbers game, jueteng. Through her testimony, we knew how the incumbent representative of security guards in Congress and former presidential son received proceeds from jueteng in the august hall of Congress.
Vidal Doble for his part risked life and limb when he told the nation that as an intelligence officer, he had the original of the “Hello Garci” recordings – authenticating hence what we suspected all along: that President Gloria Arroyo cheated in the 2004 presidential election.
Primitivo Mijares, on the other hand, was a close associate of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. He wrote what has become a bestseller book, “the conjugal dictatorship”, detailing the excesses of the former dictator and his spouse. Without a doubt, the book opened the minds of many to abuses of the dictatorship. Mijares, and later, one of his sons, were later killed. Until today, no one has been charged, much more punished, for these murders.
From our experience with these individuals, we know the inherent value of whistleblowers. More often than not, shenanigans in government commit crimes that only they and their close associates know about. Unless those in the know actually surface and detail what they know, the public would not be aware of these infractions.
Whistleblowers though, unlike state witnesses, currently have no protection in this country. Under the Witness Protection Program or under the Rules of Court provision on discharge of state witnesses, witnesses whose testimonies are indispensable in proving the commission of a crime, provided they do not appear to be the guiltiest, are entitled to testimonial immunity. This means that their admission into the WPP or their discharge as state witnesses comes with an incentive in the form of the state desisting from holding them responsible for the crimes that they would be helping to prove in court.
Whistleblowers, on the other hand, because their testimonies oftentimes are not indispensible or because of the secrecy, they appear to be among the guiltiest, cannot qualify for the WPP or for discharge as state witnesses. This explains why the Ombudsman has recently charged Jun Lozada with cases for corruption involving other transactions in the government office that he once headed. And yet, quite unfairly for whistleblowers, they do the exact same thing that those accorded immunity by our existing rules: they reveal the truth in order to give effect to public accountability.
The international trend today recognizes the need to provide protection to whistleblowers distinct from protection given to witnesses or discharge accorded to state witnesses. For instance, the UN Convention on Corruption calls on countries to “provide appropriate measures to protect” whistleblowers. Similar provisions are found in the European Union’s Civil and Criminal Law Conventions on Corruption, the African Union Convention on Corruption and the Latin American Convention on Corruption.
Likewise, an increasing number of countries have now passed legislation according both immunity and protection to whistle blowers. Furthermore, Transparency International’s Recommended Principles for Whistleblowing Legislation further asks states to incentivize whistle blowing and to provide rewards to those who will be whistleblowers.
In the Philippines, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has a pending bill to provide these badly needed protection and incentives to whistleblowers. According to the good senator:
“Whistleblowers automatically expect retaliation for their honesty. They are usually accused of being malcontents trying to profit from their accusations. The fear generated by retaliations creates a chilling effect on the willingness of people to come forward and expose wrongdoing,”
Let us pass this bill into law soon.