The Philippines is long plagued with the problem of lack of transparency, which contributes to the perpetuation of corruption on both the national and local levels due to difficulty in establishing accountability. Recently, this issue has been on headlines due to the Freedom of Information Bill being hotly debated. While this case in particular might pertain to the government’s lack of openness about its transactions and activities, some transparency – not completely so – between corporations and the communities whose lives they directly affect with their operations is also necessary to some extent.
I personally saw this need for corporate transparency on my group’s field research in Samal, Bataan last Sunday. Our purpose in going there was to gain information from primary sources about the impacts of a factory that engaged in fisheries and production of aqua feeds. We wanted to try and see if we can gain access into the premises of the factory to see for ourselves the processes in which production took place. We were denied entry. To be fair, it was Sunday; and although we had written a letter to the head offices in Metro Manila to schedule a visit and interview with representatives from a company, we had not gotten a reply so we technically had no ground to stand on. But what shocked me the most was that we weren’t permitted to take pictures of the facilities from the vantage of the rolled. After being turned away by the security guards, we had parked on the side of the road – well outside of the factory grounds – in order to take a picture of the sign, the little of the facilities that was visible, the high walls and gates. We were hindered however by the guards who came up to our van, spoke to us through the open window and demanded – still very politely – that we stop. We were shocked for we have never thought that we would encounter such stringent security.
Then, we went on to interview community officials and locals about the general views regarding the operations of the factory’s impact on the environment. Fortunately enough, one of the interviewees was the barangay captain at the time when the aqua feeds company filed a proposal to construct a factory in the area. According to him, the company had promised many jobs as well as growth for the community as a result of their planned operations. He had trusted the words of the official so much so that he had foregone a MOA. “Ang malaking pagkakamali ko naman ay nagtiwala ako sa sinabi nila,” lamented the former barangay captain. He, along with the other people we interviewed, told us about how the factory’s security was so tight that only a select few of the local monitoring team ever gets a chance to view the interior. It is the team therefore that relays to the rest of the locals the processes in the factory and determine any impact on the immediate vicinity. The current barangay captain was one of the said few, which would have been fine if not for the fact that he has multiple family members working for the company. This suggests a conflict of interests that should not exist in the first place. How could the barangay captain be impartial in promoting transparency with regards to the activities of company, especially in the face of complaints of foul odor, increased pests, etc.?
The people have a right to know the truth about the operations of the firm if it directly impacts their daily lives. The momentum behind the actions being taken by concerned citizens and organizations like Focus ought to persist for any sort of change is implemented.
Mari Toni Ann V. Fernandez