When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was running for office, he promised to double the salaries of the police and the military. This was fulfilled a year and a half into his presidency in 2018, with a $17-billion annual price tag on pensions in the next 20 years. In this story, Rappler unpacked the complex issues faced by the proponents of the military and uniformed personnel pension reform, and how much the government will save if these reforms are implemented.
Rappler has been covering congressional hearings on the proposed military pension reform, an important topic yet hardly given in-depth coverage by other news organizations. This story in April 2021 served as an explainer, armed with the analysis showing the urgent need for reforms. After the story was published, we continued reporting on new developments.
In July 2021, Duterte asked Congress to pass a law reforming the pension scheme.
Rappler went through budget documents and live streams of Senate committee hearings to get the necessary data. These were compiled on Google Sheets. To make the data more accessible, these were visualized on Datawrapper. We also created a dashboard on Tableau to better present the different scenarios on pension reform that mixed and matched variables and showed the annual cost to the government in a set number of years.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part was getting hold of the initial actuarial study commissioned with the Philippine Government Service Insurance System. We tried to request a copy, but our requests were left unanswered. What we did instead was get the data from the presentation during the Senate committee hearing. The succeeding challenge was how to make the data from the actuarial study easier to understand. Since there are a number of variables and combinations of those, we arrived at the realization that a dashboard might be the most effective way to present the data. The topic was very complex — it involved a lot of future-looking scenarios and deep historical context. In order to fully understand and provide nuances in the story, we did a number of interviews with experts, former military men, government officials, and legislators.
What can others learn from this project?
Journalists have to go beyond reporting policy statements and exchanges during congressional hearings to be able to make the larger public understand the fiscal repercussions of populist promises by the President. And independent analysis of financial documents would make for a solid story.