WORTH ALL THE RISK (Ruben M. Manatad)

CEBU DAILY NEWS
Page 16, Q & A
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

WORTH ALL THE RISK

WOULD you turn a blind eye on government thievery or
would you risk your life to rat on the rat?

Ruben M. Manatad, recipient of the 2006 Whistleblower
Award, made the not-so-easy choice. As
officer-in-charge for Region 8 of the National Food
Authority and its resident ombudsman, he was
responsible for exposing the switching of confiscated
sacks of smuggled rice with sawdust in Hindang, Leyte,
on May 30 and 31 2002.
Manatad spoke during the launching of “AHA! A Citizens
Primer on Whistleblowing,” a joint project of the
Office of the Ombudsman and the Jesuit religious order
in the Philippines.

Cebu Daily News: How did your life change after you
made that expose?
In our office I was already a national semifinalist in
the “Dangal ng Bayan,” but I didn’t get enough
support. In fact, the central office (NFA) called the
regional office asking who endorsed me.

How do you feel about the negative reactions you’re
getting?
I consider them tests of my being an advocate of
genuine public service. If only government workers
would just be committed to genuine service for the
people that is in effect selfless service. . . .
I am an advocate, I am raising public service to a
higher level. What I am advocating is that government
workers should also be empowered. They should have a
say in all decision-making processes. There should be
critical thinking. It should not be discouraged.

What did you hope to achieve by making your expose?
Some people sort of ostracized me. They call me
“suntok sa buwan.” (punching at the moon).
Whistleblowers may be creating tiny ripples, but
they’re infectious and affect other government
workers. We will be creating a tsunami effect that
would demolish the wall of powerlessness.
We have this mindset of powerlessness because
corruption is an accepted way of life. There has to be
new vigor to reawaken what public service truly is.

What are the risks a whistleblower has to endure?
Uncertainty is his career. Uncertainty for his future
and personal safety.  Ostracism, because some of your
friends are subjects of the inquiry. But these are
necessary risks.
I treat it as nothing extraordinary. I consider it my
normal duty. So it does not have so much effect on me
psychologically, although there are safety concerns
that involve my family.
Was it worth all the trouble?
When you face risks because of an expose you made, you
start asking yourself, “Can I still feed my family?
Can I still have my work? What if something will
happen to me?”
But I am still alive. I have no regrets doing it
because in one way or another I have contributed. I
did my share of advocating genuine public service.

At the height of the controversy, were you offered a
bribe or intimidated?
In one instance, a fat envelope was dangled before me.
I decided to call the media to expose this switching
(of rice stocks). I also demanded that the management
require the stocks to undergo a bag-to-bag inventory.
After which, I issued a report that out of the six
trucks unloaded only two trucks were loaded with rice
and the four trucks with sawdust.
I would done the same thing again, even a million
times, just to show that there are people in
government that can’t be bought. I would do so if only
to manifest that there are still trustworthy people in
public service.

Are you ready for the worst?
Yes. Whistleblowers are an endangered specie, some of
them silenced forever. Deep inside, I have that fear
of being killed. I have experienced some attempts on
my life, but I doubt the rice smugglers are involved.
When I made my expose, they made no such attempt. I
like to tell those who want to kill me that what I am
doing is not to destabilize the government. I am the
head of a provincial office that deals with a very
vital commodity, rice. How could I be a destabilizer
when my efforts were recognized by the national
government? I don’t deserve to be a mere statistics in
extrajudicial killings.

Before you decided to expose the anomaly, did you
consult your family?
They did not know. I did not consult my family. When
they learned about it, they were afraid. In fairness
to the NFA, it was supportive. The regional office
provided me a car and a security officer whom I
dismissed after two weeks because I felt the
arrangement wasn’t necessary.

Despite your effort, it is a fact that corruption in
government is still prevalent. Are you  not
discourage?
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of me
cursing in the dark, I light a candle. There is hope
for this miserable country. People are becoming
vigilant and there is wide participation in the fight
against corruption. In this fight, the national
leadership should be sincere and vigorous in its
campaign.

Note: Ruben M. Manatad is the Provincial Manager of
the NFA Biliran