Professionalism/The Case of Marlene Garcia-Esperat

Exploring the life, death, and impact of Marlene Garcia-Esperat.

Early LifeEdit

In the early 1990’s, Marlene Garcia-Esperat was a chemist in the Filipino Department of Agriculture. She discovered her lab was only receiving 40% of the funds supposedly allotted by the government. When she pushed the government to investigate, they were slow and reluctant to persecute. When she investigated further herself, she found a wealth of corruption.[1]

Garcia-Esperat began regularly exposing corruption in the Filipino government. She started her own radio station, penned a weekly column for the local Midland Review, and was commonly cited by other journalists, all in the name of anti-graft.[2]

She was the ombudsman to the Department of Agriculture, which had one of the largest budgets in the country.[1] It was clearly one of the most important government departments, as 47% of the Philippines’ workforce is employed in agriculture and it accounts for 12% of the Filipino GDP. According to Garcia-Esperat, it was also one of the most corrupt.[1]

She went on to expose funds meant for farmers going to bureaucrats and politicians, fake projects sucking up money, and rigged bidding processes.[1] She filed many cases against DA officials, including one against the DA Undersecretary for chicken smuggling. A scandal involving a large-scale fertilizer funding scam was one of the largest exposures she was involved in. [3] Her background as a scientist was said to inform her meticulous documentation of corruption.[1]

Garcia-Esperat did not make much money as a journalist, and sold goods to support herself. She recognized the uphill battle she fought and often said gained support for the honest DA employees who wanted to rid the Department of corruption. Garcia-Esperat was described by a vibrant person by her co-workers, whose eyeshadow and wardrobe was as colorful as her personality.[1]

The AssassinationEdit

On March 24, 2005, Garcia-Esperat sent the guards home early in honor of the upcoming Easter holiday. While the family was having dinner, a gunman entered her home, greeted Garcia-Esperat, then shot and killed her in front of her two children. The gunman and an accomplice escaped on a motorcycle. [2]

Two and a half weeks later, 4 suspects were arrested. Two Department of Agriculture officials, whom Garcia-Esperat identified as the “hub” of departmental corruption, were accused of hiring the gunmen. The trials dragged on, but a year and a half after the murder, 3 of the 4 accused admitted to being paid 120,000 Philippines pesos to murder Garcia-Esperat[4] and were sentenced to at least 30 years without parole. The charges against the two DA officials were dropped in 2005, but re-filed in 2008. Much to the protest of many, they both returned to work at the Department of Agriculture in 2010.[5]

Garcia-Esperat likely understood the danger of her profession. Her father was a local police chief who survived two assassination attempts.[1] Her first husband, himself an outspoken broadcaster, was murdered in 1989, only a few years before Garcia-Esperat began uncovering corruption. She had previously received death threats, was the subject of an attempted assassination and another attempted abduction, and was under active police protection at the time of her death.[6]

Whistleblower Culture in the U.S. and PhilippinesEdit

United StatesEdit

Legal protection against whistleblowers in the U.S. began during during the Civil War in which the False Claims Act rewarded those who revealed government fraud.[7] The relator is incentivized through an offer of 15 to 25 percent of the money recovered by the government.[7] Even if he or she is involved in the fraud, they are rewarded a small percentage. Despite such protection, in the early 20th century, whistleblowers received little support. Americans viewed corporations as a valuable contribution to the financial success of the U.S. and any threat to its prosperity was condemned.[8] The term "snitch" was often dedicated to whistleblowers stemming from a belief that they were disloyal and had adverse motives.[8]

In the later part of the 1900s, large organizations began to face severe economic setbacks, such as the stock market crash and the 1979 energy crisis.[8] This caused a reformation of existing whistleblower protection laws and a "cultural shift from reverence to distrust" against large corporations.[8] Such laws included the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that both protect employees from retaliation and encourage exposure of government wrongdoings. The Dodd-Frank Act also allows employees to maintain anonymity.

Whistleblowers have received both protection and praise, such as Cynthia Cooper, who uncovered fraud in WorldCom accounting books[9], and Marc Edwards, who exposed the Department of Health and Human Service employees of hiding evidence for increased lead content in Flint water.[10] However, in the past 20 years, there have been several cases of employer retaliation against whistleblowing employees, particular in federal agencies. FBI employees are exempted from the Whistleblower Protection Act and processing any reports made to select management employees are often delayed by 10 years.[11] Robert Kobus, an FBI administrator, reported employee favoritism and exploitation of taxpayer money by email.[12] However, he faced neglect and humiliation by his employers for nine years before the government found Kobus in the right.[12]

PhilippinesEdit

There is another degree of retaliation that those in Philippines often face when exposing government corruption. Filipino journalists who work for local newspapers or are free-lancers do not have the same legal protection as in the U.S., and are often killed by their employers. There were 77 journalists killed in the Philippines since 1992 in which the motive was confirmed. 43% of those cases involved journalists exposing corruption.[13] The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports their yearly Global Impunity Index to highlight 14 countries where journalists are slain and the killers aren’t persecuted. The Philippines is ranked 4th on the list based on unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of population.[14] This can partially be attributed to the corrupt government, however, other countries such as Mexico don’t make CPJ’s list even though they are rated closely to the Philippines on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

In addition to Garcia-Esperat, Gerry Ortega was another famous journalist who was assassinated in 2011 when he spoke out against mining and a misuse of funds from the Malampaya gas field. He was shot in broad daylight in a crowded street market.[15] The constant murderers of journalists without concern for arrest is attributed to the flawed judicial system in the Philippines.[16] Even if the assassins are captured, they can easily be released with government support.[16] In this class-based society, the culture of impunity has been a major concern in the Philippines. Some witnesses also hesitate to speak out because of threats or intimidation.[17] In Garcia-Esperat's case, her family stepped up only after they were convinced by Nena Santos, a lawyer and a friend of Garcia-Esperat.[18] Including Ortega and Garcia-Esperat's, there have only been three cases so far that have resulted in the arrest of the perpetrator.[13]

At the time of the assassination, Garcia-Esperat was under police protection, but during that time there was no official law that protects the health and well-being of whisteblowers. The Witness Protection Act offered them security but does not explicitly protect witnesses from harassment or reprisal tactics from their employers.[19] In 2007, the 14th Congress proposed the "Whistleblower Protection Bill" that aimed to protect employee rights, but it never passed.[20] A few years later in 2011, the 15th congress wrote another bill to better protect whistleblowers who expose corruption and their families[21], but this act was not passed by the Senate.[22]

In both the U.S. and the Philippines, whistleblowers generally have public support, but legal protection and government support is limited in the Philippines. There is a difference in what people must risk to expose government or corporate corruption and to stand by their moral standards and their duty to protect the public. In the U.S., they risk their career and reputation; in the Philippines, they risk their life.

Professional EthicsEdit

Life vs. CareerEdit

The difference between risking your career and risking your life is what sets this case apart from the average whistleblower case. In most cases, especially in the U.S., whistleblowers and investigative journalists risk their careers or reputations to uncover wrong doing. An example similar to Marlene Garcia-Esperat is Robert McCarthey. Robert McCarthy served as Field Solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Interior and as General Counsel for the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). In 2008 and 2009, McCarthey revealed a mismanagement of $3.5 billion dollars in the Interior Department as well as massive fraud, waste, and abuse by the IBWC. As a result, McCarthey was forced from government services, but he continues to advocate for the victims of government abuse.[23] While McCarthey lost his job and risked his reputation, his life was not immediately in danger. This makes it easier to do the right thing and uphold professional integrity. Maintaining your moral standards and integrity, however, is much more difficult when your life is at stake.

Marlene was fully aware of the risks in her career. With her father’s assassination attempts, Marlene was familiar with the violence surrounding the Philippines political system from a young age. She knew very well that her life was in danger as she continued her anti-grafting campaign. Writers for the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism, Luz Rimban and Sheila Coronel, once said that Marlene showed up to their offices with glitter in her eyes and she said, “I want to look pretty when the assassins come to get me” [1]. Despite the threats, Marlene knew what was right and wanted to help the people of the Philippines. She faced the corrupt agencies head on, holding justice above her life.

Endangering OthersEdit

One could fault Garcia-Esperat as being reckless in endangering the lives of her family and friends. While she was willing to risk her life, others might not be. This creates an ethical dilemma where in fighting to protect the victims of government abuse, she may be putting others in danger. Chandrika Rai was an Indian journalist who consistently wrote against illegal coal mining. In 2012, he and his entire family were murdered. Authorities speculated that the act was linked to Rai’s work in investigative journalism.[24] This example illustrates that journalists and whistleblowers may be risking the lives of others when speaking out against corruption in violent regions.

Despite the ethical dilemma between doing what’s right and endangering others, Marlene Garcia-Esperat trusted her judgement. Her friends and family cautioned her, telling her to slow down [1], yet she continued to seek justice. She upheld her professional integrity, working fearlessly to aid the people of the Philippines and clean up the corrupt government.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. a b c d e f g h i Rimban, L. & Coronel, S.S. (2005, March 28). Farewell, Erin Brockovich. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Retrieved from http://pcij.org/stories/2005/marlene.html
  2. a b CPJ (2005). Committee to Protect Journalists. Marlene Garcia-Esperat. Retrieved from https://cpj.org/killed/2005/marlene-garcia-esperat.php
  3. PCIJ (2011, April 15) Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Marlene Esperat, Whistleblower. Retrieved from http://pcij.org/blog/2011/04/15/marlene-esperat-whistleblower
  4. Rimban, L. (2006, March 24). One Year after her Murder, No Justice for ‘Erin Brockovich.’ Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Retrieved from http://pcij.org/stories/2006/marlene-esperat.html
  5. Earp, M. & Mukherjee, M. (2010, March 24). In Garcia-Esperat murder, a twisting path to justice. Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved from https://cpj.org/blog/2010/03/philippine-impunity-in-garcia-esperat-murder.php
  6. Rimban, L. (2001). Madame Witness. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Retrieved from http://pcij.org/imag/FirstPerson/witness.html
  7. a b False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729–3733 (1863).
  8. a b c d Campbell, G. (2013). Snitch or Savior: How the Modern Cultural Acceptance of Pharmaceutical Company Employee External Whistleblowing is Reflected in Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law, 15(2), 565-597. Retrieved from scholarship.law.upenn.edu.
  9. Q&A: Whistle-Blower Cynthia Cooper [Interview by A. Ripley]. (2008, February 4). Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1709695,00.html
  10. Itkowitz, C. (2016, January 27). The heroic professor who helped uncover the Flint lead water crisis​ has been asked to fix it. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/01/26/meet-the-heroic-professor-who-helped-uncover-the-flint-lead-water-crisis/
  11. Goodman, M., Crump, C., & Corris, S. (2007). The Government’s Unchecked Retaliation Against National Security Whistleblowers (pp. 4-22, Rep.). New York, NY: American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/safefree/disavowed_report.pdf
  12. a b Johnson, C. (Interviewer). (2015, April 15). A Decade After Blowing The Whistle On The FBI, Vindication. In Law, Morning Edition. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2015/04/15/398518857/9-years-after-blowing-the-whistle-on-the-fbi-he-s-been-vindicated
  13. a b Journalists Killed in Philippines. (2016). Retrieved from https://cpj.org/killed/asia/philippines/
  14. CPJ (2015). Committee to Protect Journalists. Getting Away With Murder. Retrieved from https://cpj.org/reports/2015/10/impunity-index-getting-away-with-murder.php#table
  15. Buezza, M. (2015, September 22). TIMELINE: Gerry Ortega murder case. Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/106638-timeline-gerry-ortega-murder- case?scrolly=1
  16. a b Quintos de Jesus, M. (2008). “Protecting the Whistleblowers–Asian and European Perspectives. Asia-Europe Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.asef.org/images/docs/1265-MelindaQuintosdeJesus.pdf
  17. Third witness killed in Ampatuan case confirms impunity still rampant. (2012, June 6). IFEX. Retrieved from https://www.ifex.org/philippines/2012/06/06/enog_killed/
  18. Philippines: That one murder that saw rare conviction of the killers. (2007, November 17). Newswatch Desk. Retrieved from http://www.newswatch.in/archives/features/philippines-that-one-murder-that-saw-rare-conviction-of-the-killers.html
  19. Witness Protection Act, No. 6981 (1991).
  20. Whistleblower Protection Bill. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.senate.gov.ph/lisdata/1301611690!.pdf
  21. Whistleblower Protection Bill. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.senate.gov.ph/lis/bill_res.aspx?congress=15&q=SBN-2860
  22. Leila, S. B. (2013, February 12). Senate’s failure to pass whistle-blower security bill hit. Inquirer.net. Retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/356867/senates-failure-to-pass-whistle-blower-security-bill-hit
  23. Robert J. McCarthy, Blowing in the Wind: Answers for Federal Whistleblowers, 3 WILLIAM & MARY POLICY REVIEW 184 (2012); Robert J. McCarthy, Taking the Stand: Why Federal Whistleblowers are Unprotected from Retaliation, The District of Columbia Bar: WASHINGTON LAWYER (October 2012);Robert J. McCarthy, Executive Authority, Adaptive Treaty Interpretation, and the International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S.-Mexico, 14-2 U. Denv. Water L. Rev. 197 (Spring 2011) (also available for free download Robert J. McCarthy, The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Trust Obligation to American Indians, 19 BYU J. PUB. L. 1 (December 2004).
  24. Singh, M.P (2012). Journalist, family murdered; hand of mining mafia suspected. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/journalist-family-murdered-hand-of-mining-mafia-suspected/article2910400.ece