Monday, May 18, 2009

My Take on the CheChe Lazaro vs. GSIS controversy

Last week, all of us heard about the wiretapping raps against journalism icon CheChe Lazaro by a high ranking Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). In fact, a Pasay City court judge had ordered an arrest warrant against Ms Lazaro. As a future journalist myself, I do believe that this case is only meant to derail Ms Lazaro and company from doing investigative work. Anyway, I cannot really discuss the case’s merits because first, I’m not a lawyer – and second, there’s the rule on sub judice.

Let’s just turn our attention to another important fact – the accountability to the public of our government officials (both elected and appointed). There’s an old rule that says: “public office is public trust – officials must be accountable to the public at all times.” Accountability means ‘kapapanagutan’ in Filipino. In essence, it states that government officials must always be transparent in their conduct – and that they can be held liable for their actions. It is very convenient to forget this principle, especially when THEY seem to be more loyal to their patron in Malacanang than to the Filipino people.

Take the case of GSIS vs. CheChe Lazaro. Probe has aired a documentary, “Perwisyong Benepisyo,” last November 2008. It features the sorry plight of meager-paid public school teachers in connection to their GSIS benefits. Obviously, the teachers’ groups merely wanted the said government financial entity (led by Winston Garcia) to explain to them how it handles their money. It’s a legitimate concern because after all, GSIS contributions are already deducted even before the teachers get their paychecks.

GSIS officials must be compelled to explain the matter to its contributors because they are the only ones mandated to shed light on the teachers’ concerns. There’s so much public interest involved here since we are talking about public money! Aren’t the teachers entitled to know what the GSIS does to their money? The moment these teachers, and every Filipino for that matter, demand answers from the government – someone should go out in public and explain. It is because the public has the right to know!

The 1987 is very clear about it: Art. III, Sec. 7: The right of the people to information on matters of public shall be recognized… Members of the media, Ms Lazaro included, serves as the mediator between the public and their leaders. This may sound cliché to mass communication students, but the media’s role is to serve the governed (not the governors), to comfort the afflicted, and to give voice to the voiceless.

Just like any journalist, Ms Lazaro knew the importance of getting the other side of the story – hence, the Probe exerted all efforts to get the GSIS to talk. The GSIS declined to be interviewed because ‘based on experience,’ stories aired by Lopez-owned entities have always been biased against them. This is very arbitrary on their part and clearly, the GSIS is only using its past conflict with the Lopezes over MERALCO as an excuse for not talking at all. Non-transparency in government makes it conducive for corruption. Now we ask GSIS’s Winston Garcia and their VP for Public Relation Ella Villacerina: IS THERE SOMETHING TO HIDE? #

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