Investigative Journalism: The Way Forward for the 2022 Elections and Beyond

In six months, we will be electing a new president who will implement national plans for pandemic recovery, economic development, healthcare reform, and educational innovations.

These issues, alongside other socio-political and cultural terrains, shaped the direction of the 2nd National Conference on Investigative Journalism hosted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) through the support of the National Endowment for Democracy on November 23-27, 2021.

As one of the fellows representing RNG Luzon and the academe, I engaged in productive discussions with young journalists, civil societies, and academics on the upcoming 2022 elections, human rights reporting, documentary storytelling, and coverage of vulnerable populations and conflict areas.

Founded in 1989, the goal of PCIJ is to situate investigative journalism at the fore for public good by confronting the challenges hounding Philippine journalism, especially at a critical time in our history.

Speaking from a cafeteria in Harvard, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa delivered an inspiring message to the fellows, emphasizing the power of technology in manipulating information and algorithm for public deceit.

Pulitzer Prize awardee Manny Mogato and PCIJ founding executive director Sheila Coronel stressed the importance of an independent press to a democracy like the Philippines.

Mogato argued that we, as journalists, should “hold the powerful accountable” which requires “considerable research in revealing fraud and deceit.”

GMA journalist Howie Severino also joined the panel and urged the fellows to step up in truth-telling. “This can be the worst of times for journalists where lies and falsehoods spread faster than facts, and our profession is being devalued in the eyes of many,” Severino said.

As the keynote speaker, Marites Vitug, author of several books–including award-winning book Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won its Maritime Case against China–explored the playbook of authoritarian regimes throughout history. To achieve their ends, these governments use(d) the courts to intimidate opposition and state resources for disinformation and other propaganda. Vitug, then, expressed that the noble mission of journalism is “to change things, to improve the conditions in our communities, to make lives better.”

PCIJ and the Media during the Pandemic

Juliet Javellana, associate publisher of Philippine Daily Inquirer, explored the common challenges in covering the 2022 local and national elections confronting journalists today.

At the center of breaking the news is a journalist who often risks their safety to get to the bottom of stories for the public. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed restrictions on social mobility, access to sources of information, and disinformation on top of incidents of threats and attacks against journalists and media organizations.

Javellana encouraged the journalists to be wary of candidates’ promises if we want to remain true to our mission of empowering the public with true information.

The PCIJ fellowship also commemorated the Ampatuan massacre, the bloodiest attack on media workers in Philippine history on November 23, 2009 that killed 58 people including 32 journalists.

Jonathan de Santos, the chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), reported that 80 accused were still at large in August 2019 and five arrested from 2020 to 2021. De Santos pleaded that the fellows should “keep the story alive” to bring to justice the other living perpetrators.

Melinda Quintos-de Jesus, executive director of Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), shared that from June 30, 2016 to November 17, 2021, there were 229 incidents of threats and attacks against journalists and media organizations while 21 journalists were killed in the line of work.

Atty. Theodore Te, lawyer for the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), calls for the decriminalization of libel that will guarantee the protection of journalists from threats and attacks. Journalists are also victims of negative profiling and red-tagging for truthfully reporting stories.

Based on the report of the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2021, the Philippines ranks with many developing countries in Africa with the weakest adherence to the rule of law. “Effective rule of law reduces corruption, combats poverty and disease, and protects people from injustices large and small,” according to the Index.

To remain true to the role that “the media play…in scrutinizing and strengthening democratic institutions, defending and asserting press freedom, freedom of information, and freedom of expression,” PCIJ held 21 parallel sessions that trained the fellows on the rudiments of investigative journalism.

Other than the sessions that I attended, the other fellows had the opportunity to learn from and weigh in with veteran and young journalists on data journalism, photojournalism, investigating local governments, exposing corruption, and ensuring digital security, among other relevant beats and topics.

One resounding challenge that most journalists echoed during the fellowship is the fact that Philippine journalism is under a serious threat brought about by disinformation as an aftermath of a technologically (over/dis)engaged community of netizens.

To combat this dilemma, journalists and citizens are enjoined to report disinformation that has seemingly become part of today’s technological climate that weakens our ability to engage in meaningful dialogues.

To officially close the PCIJ Fellowship 2021, a panel was hosted by Roby Alampay, journalist and founder of PumaPodcast, who was joined by MindaNews editor-in-chief Carol Arguillas, Daily Guardian editor-in-chief Francis Allan Angelo, and ABS-CBN News head Ging Reyes to talk about the challenges confronting news reporting during a critical socio-political time.

In six months, we will be electing a new president who will steer our nation towards pandemic-resilient communities. We will elect a new president who will either represent traditional politics or a new president who will embody the ideals of a true Filipino imbued with honor, compassion, dignity, and love of country–and who will represent rural and marginalized communities.

Iskolar ng at para sa bayan, educator, community journalist, researcher, and Ilokano. His recent research studies focus on science communication, organizational communication, community development, and narratives of risks and the pandemic. He enjoys visiting museums and galleries, sipping brewed coffee, and understanding everyday life and social phenomena.



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