The term “whistleblower” comes from the whistle a referee uses to indicate an illegal or foul play. The ongoing PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) and UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) basketball games are the more common examples of referees blowing their whistles to signify unwarranted action on the hard court by opposing players. In the 1970s, US automobile activist Ralph Nader coined the phrase to avoid the connotations found in other words such as “informer” or “snitch.”
Wikipedia defines a whistleblower as a person who exposes misconduct, alleged dishonesty or illegal activity in an organization. It also divides whistleblower into two categories: The internal whistleblower reports misconduct on the part of fellow employees or supervisors within their company, implying the existence of an internal complaint system; the external whistleblower reports misconduct to outside persons or entities, such as the media, lawyers, watchdog agencies, or law enforcement units.
These days, the term “whistleblower” is very much a part of our vocabulary. Much has been written and more has been said about Jun Lozada since the NBN-ZTE scandal broke out during the Arroyo administration. Now Benhur Luy recently came out with revelations about illegal transactions in the use of PDAF entitlements (pork barrel) by our legislators amounting to billions of pesos.
Both Lozada and Luy have been described as whistleblowers. If we go by the above definition, that may be true. But there is another term used in law enforcement circles that could also characterize Lozada and Luy. They are criminal informants. They provided to an agency, the media, or some outside institution-privileged information about a person or an organization. If we are to attempt to make some distinction between the whistleblower and the criminal informant, it is this: Their methods are the same, but their motives may be different. Lozada exposed corruption and greed at the highest levels of government and subsequently faced threats to his life. Luy allegedly wanted in on a greater part of the action himself and was allegedly illegally detained by his employer Janet Lim-Napoles for his audacity. Perhaps it is this difference in motives that Ralph Nader wanted to highlight when he coined the term “whistleblower.” In both cases, media provided the best means for protection and support.
How have our whistleblowers or informants fared so far?
Sandra Cam, who blew the whistle on alleged jueteng payoffs made to the Arroyos in the past, has not been heard from. Nothing seems to have materialized despite her testimony.
Heidi Mendoza revealed how government auditors may have been complicit in allowing questionable transactions involving government funds in the case of Gen. Carlos Garcia, former AFP comptroller. She is now a member of the Commission on Audit.
Retired Col. George Rabusa blew the whistle on alleged anomalies involving several officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, including AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes who committed suicide. The cases were dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman.
Lozada, who is the principal witness of the government against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the NBN-ZTE anomaly, is himself facing charges for illegal transactions as head of Philippine Forest Corp.
Let’s not forget the P728-million fertilizer fund scam allegedly masterminded by Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante. Who was the whistleblower in this case that has been pending for the last eight years with no end in sight?
In one case, an informant—whose name escapes me—was placed under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) of the Department of Justice. He was found dead after a few weeks. No one knows what happened.
One might say that the life of a whistleblower is a mixed bag: At times, it can be rewarding; often, it is dangerous and life threatening.
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Today, the most famous whistleblower in the world is 29-year-old Edward Snowden. He worked at the US National Security Agency (NSA) for four years. In a June 10 article that appeared in The Guardian, it was written that “Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organizations—the NSA.
“In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: ‘I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,’ but ‘I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant’.”
The article continued to note that Snowden did not fear the consequences of publicity. He was concerned only that it would distract from the issues that his disclosures brought about. “I know the media likes to personalize political debates, and I know the government will demonize me.”
“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them…. I’m not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made.”
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In defense of whistleblowers.
By virtue of a resolution authored by US Senator Chuck Grassley, July 30, 2013 has been designated as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.” He noted that “whistleblowers are pivotal pieces of the oversight puzzle. Their work ensures that our system of checks and balances operates effectively. I’ve asked Presidents to host a Rose Garden ceremony to honor these truth-tellers. Nobody has taken me up on the suggestion. It would do many good to show these courageous Americans that, by telling the truth, they are continuing an important legacy to keep America strong. Let’s honor the whistleblowers who have helped change the course of history for the better.”
Have we honored any of our brave whistleblowers, or do we tend to be suspicious of their motives and look upon them more as criminal informants?