Vino opens up on Open Contracting

November 15, 2018

First published on Hivos Southeast Asia here

We’re meeting with Vino, a young journalist from the Philippines, who is excited to be in Seoul, Korea, as part of the Hivos engagement team in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Regional Meeting 2018.

“The weather here is very different to Manila. The first day was a bit challenging but I got the hang of it soon after. Besides, it has been a very fun and productive week so far,” says Vino when we meet him. In the sidelines of the Hivos intervention at the OGP Meeting, we managed to pull Vino briefly and talk to him for a little while.

Vino, Sir, could you tell us more about yourself please?
My name is Vino Lucero and I am a reporter for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). I produce reports on the war on drugs in the Philippines, the elections, campaigns, government contracts, politics and governance, freedom of information issues and privacy issues, among others. In 2017, I was one of the three nominees for the Newcomer of the Year Award of Free Press Unlimited – a media freedom advocacy organization based in the Netherlands.

Why did you decide to become a journalist?
Well, interestingly, back in college I had the intention of being an accountant. In my second year of college, I realized I was more interested on the other side, like reporting on business, economics. I was really feeling like a nerd [laughs], because being a business journalist is kind of rare in the journalism department of the university. Most of my batch mates were interested in reporting for politics, governance, writing feature stories, and I think I was just one of the few interested in business journalism at the time.

But, I guess fate had different plans. My mentors in the journalism program inspired me to focus on investigative track instead. I’d like to think that back then, they saw the potential for me to be a good investigative reporter. So, during my junior year, I pursued an internship at the PCIJ.

Right after graduation, when I was starting to do the employment training in one of the big news organisations in Manila, Ms. Malou Mangahas, the Executive Director of PCIJ called me and she decided to actually give me a job at PCIJ. At that time, I knew from the get go that I was really, really interested in the reporter job at the PCIJ so I immediately accepted.

What is the current condition of open contracting in the Philippines?
There was a consensus that when it comes to open contracting, and publishing contracting data and documents in the Philippines, there is still room for improvement. There are issues like difference in typing or naming conventions, timeliness and accessibility of the data and documents, but at the end of the day, the bigger challenge is to instill the importance of being open by default to government agencies especially when it comes to government contracts, I guess it would feel natural to them (government) to be as open and transparent as possible because at the end of the day they are dealing with taxpayer’s money.

Where do you see the media plays a role in the open contracting efforts?
I feel like most of journalists already know that reporting on government contracting data is important, because we’re dealing with tax payers money — millions to billions of pesos– and we are supposed to be the watchdog of the government on public interests. But, in my opinion, the disconnect between the interest and the acknowledgement that it is important and the output, the disconnect happens when it comes to the confidence and the skill of the reporters to actually use contracting data.

What most reporters need is to be empowered to actually pursue their leads about government contracts by training them, providing them resources and I guess on the top level, encouraging editors to give their reporters some leeway in pursuing some long form investigation on government contracting. Imagine being a beat journalist churning out five, seven stories a day, and then you have the interest to pursue a report on government contract because you got the lead from the field, but the sources of the data are on different offices /agencies of the government, so you will really have a difficult time in getting the data. And that’s just data gathering, there are a lot more steps to do. So you really need the support of your editors when pursuing this kind of investigation.

How did you come across Hivos and its program?
I think it was back in early 2017 when I first remember the first talks about the open contracting project, where what we actually pitched back then during our first phase of the project would be assessing the availability of contracting data on infrastructure contract sunder the Department of Public Works and Highways. During that phase of the project we did not only deal with government procurement policy board, PhilGEPS, Department of Public Works and Highways, we also dealt with other complementary agencies that have contracting data. For the second phase, we are doing two series of investigative reports about government contracts, and at the same time, we have a training session for journalists about contracting literacy, open contracting, and data journalism in general.

How do you benefit from Hivos’ program related to Open Contracting?
Aside from the funding support, it is the exposure when it comes to the network that Hivos has that really empower us partners. For example, you have network from the School of Data, which provided us with support especially when it comes to our questions about open data and visualizing huge data sets. Also, Hivos connected us with some government officials that are useful resources to our stories. At the same time, like this (OGP Meeting) for example, the opportunity to sit down and listen to the talks happening with the Open Government Partnership help us put our knowledge on open data, open contracting, and open contracting data standards into perspective.

I think Hivos’ approach is very holistic. They know that aside from the funding support, it is also important to empower and continuously educate and immerse the staff of their partners who work on the projects to new and advanced contracting literacy and open contracting learning opportunities. This leads to better project results, and in the long run, this builds up to higher level of competencies when it comes to contracting literacy and open contracting as the collaboration progresses.