Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: Philippines

Publishing organisation: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

To the judges of the Sigma Awards 2023:

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that specializes in investigative reporting. It was founded in 1989 by nine Filipino journalists who realized, from their years in the beat and at the news desk, the need for newspapers and broadcast agencies to go beyond day-to-day reportage.

The PCIJ believes that the media play a crucial role in scrutinizing and strengthening democratic institutions and defending and asserting press freedom. The media could — and should — be a catalyst for social debate that would redound to the promotion of public welfare.

The stories we are nominating in this application reflects PCIJ’s commitment to contribute to this end by investigating largely underreported issues in the Philippines.

Campaign finance, the subject of our entry, is an important, if not the most important aspect, of any electoral exercise. One’s capacity to run for office is largely hinged on their access to resources. Raising and spending of money in elections has implications beyond election day; it has links that may predict or define how a candidate or a political party will govern.

However, although substantial improvement has happened in the last decade, media coverage of the money flow during elections leaves a big room for improvement. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s (CMFR) election monitoring reports of the 2016 and 2010 presidential elections show that campaign finance does not get a lot of coverage in mainstream news.

“Dominated by reports from the campaign trail, the daily feed from the field failed to provide helpful information about the candidate,” the CMFR observed of the 2016 election coverage. “Embedded media clearly failed to get more facetime with the candidate, which they could have used to get deeper into issues.”

CMFR’s observation reflects longstanding challenges: The 24-hour news cycle, the pressure to publish along with the difficult process of obtaining and analyzing voluminous campaign-finance records and lack of usable data leave a big gap in terms of what reporters can investigate.

PCIJ covers campaign finance all-year round recognizing that the election cycle does not stop once candidates are proclaimed. This began in 2007 when election watchdogs and media groups like PCIJ formed the Pera at Pulitika (PAP) (Money and Politics) Consortium to review how and why candidates spend huge sums of money to get elected.

The coverage of campaign finance in the Philippines, although far from ideal, has since come a long way, from being ignored to becoming a key part of public discourse. The use of money to win a seat in public office was no longer just a topic of discussion among political scientists and election experts, but even among ordinary people. Most important, the work done by civil society complemented by media covering these activities also helped push the demand for the country’s Commission on Elections to take on concrete steps to institutionalize campaign-finance work.

Like most initiatives dependent on funding, PAP is no longer existent at least in formal terms. But the same groups continue to do the work and PCIJ has followed the money every election year. The reports PCIJ produced inspired by this effort have contributed to a deeper understanding of campaign finance, uncovering who’s backing presidents, conflict of interests between donor and donee, prohibited contributions, erring candidates as well as failure to regulate and enforce laws of the country’s poll body.

The series of reports that we are entering is the latest in this long-term endeavor of PCIJ to bring campaign finance high on the election agenda.

Thank you for reading our work.


Karol Ilagan
Editorial Director, PCIJ

Description of portfolio:

To the judges of the Sigma Awards 2023:

In May 2022, roughly 31 million Filipinos entrusted the two highest positions in the country to children of strongmen. The son and namesake of a dictator became president, while the daughter of a self-proclaimed murderer became vice president. Despite the fact that their family histories are tainted by plunder and murder, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte managed to outrun their demonstrably capable rivals. It was a stark example of power begetting power.

But who funded their run for office?

This is one of many questions that the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) tried to answer in its scrutiny of campaign-finance records submitted by the candidates.

Our reporting reveals interesting findings:

1.The successful presidential campaign of Marcos Jr. was funded by cronies of his father, the country’s late dictator and his namesake, and by today’s opulent names in the real estate, retail, construction and shipping industries. They also include owners of firms barred by law from making political contributions.

2.Sara Duterte meanwhile stands out for becoming vice president without spending any cash. She only reported receiving in-kind donations, coming political parties, senatorial candidates, and a realty firm owned by a contractor and an appointee of her father.

3.Leni Robredo’s donors tells a different story. Only one in five of her donors gave P10 million ($183,000) and above. The rest came from a long list of relatively small donors. This is a departure from presidential candidates who always reported receiving the bulk of their donations from just a few but big donors.

Still and all, the recent elections kept the unbroken pattern every three years – a round robin among political families as if public service was a cottage industry. Most of all, we found that it wasn’t only well-oiled disinformation machineries that supposedly laid the foundation for the Marcoses’ return to Malacañang, we identified the people who funded it. This information will be useful as we cover the Marcos presidency – who will win contracts and get favors?

These findings would not have been uncovered without poring over hundreds of paper records, encoding them in spreadsheets, and analyzing rows and columns of data. We first spent around three months negotiating with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow us to get a hold of the Statement of Contributions and Expenditures. The piecemeal release of these records ate up a lot of time. The redactions made on the records did not help as well.

The practical challenges we faced in the 2022 Elections is reflective of the long-term problem hounding Comelec as well. The need to level the playing field and enhance transparency in the use of money in elections has been recognized in laws dating back to the 1970s, but serious steps to regulate campaign finance were not taken until the last decade.

The difficulty in accessing records for instance is mainly due to the poll body’s Campaign Finance Office (CFO) lacking in key personnel. With only job-order employees and a few lawyers, the CFO has its work cut out for it.

This is the big hurdle that PCIJ as well as many journalists in the Philippines face in terms of covering campaign finance. Although far from ideal, it has come a long way. While news coverage has included money matters such as vote-buying, the last decade has seen a gradual shift in the media’s focus on the influence of money in politics and vice-versa. We hope to continue this kind of coverage alongside tracking the development of the poll body’s CFO.

Thank you,

Karol Ilagan
Editorial Director, PCIJ

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