Why cover the national budget?

 

The national budget is perhaps the most boring topic you can be assigned to as a journalist. 

Every now and then we come across juicy scandals that generate buzz such as the pork barrel scam and the controversy around the Aquino administration's Development Acceleration Program (DAP). For the most part, however, covering the national budget involves a lot of clerical, sometimes even "janitorial" work.

While our colleagues are off to exciting coverages, we are left behind poring over pages and pages of thick, heavy tomes that very few people really bother to read. In the past, we had to tag noteworthy things in those budget documents with post-its for future reference and then encode those numbers in spreadsheets to make them easier to analyze.

Thankfully, the big tomes were eventually supplemented with PDF files and later with actual spreadsheets and databases uploaded to the website of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). But that still did not eliminate a lot of the janitorial and data-cleaning work we needed to do before we could even get to the analysis and writing part.

The worst part of it: when we finally come up with our stories, they (understandably) do not fare as well as the stories on lawmakers feasting lasciviously on a fellow lawmaker's alleged affair. They certainly do not fare as well as the stories like social media personality Xander Ford's physical transformation or Baron Geisler's latest fight.

There are exceptions to this: the times when we investigated the latest budget scam. But that does not always happen. The reality is, most budget stories will not get those pageviews and clicks. And so from a business standpoint, why do we keep on writing those stories? Why spend time doing independent, time-consuming research on the budget?

Because it needs to be done. The stories need to be told. And this topic is one of those essential things that the public needs to be constantly informed about. We believe in this so much, that we even produced a microsite devoted to it. 

Boring they may be, but the national budget documents tell the story of how our money – the thousands of pesos that we never get our hands on because they automatically get deducted from our salaries – is supposed to be spent. And if spent on meaningful programs, they could make a big difference in people's lives. 

And if we don't spend time reviewing and analyzing those thick, boring pages, we will probably not find that one single line item, purposely tucked away under some weird sounding name, which could mean more of our hard-earned money going to wasteful or even non-existent projects.

And so, at Rappler, we keep trying.

And we make the effort to help people understand how the process works and where their money goes via visualizations like the budget tracker, and game-inspired executions like "Craft your own budget" and "Slides and Ladders: Understand the budget process." 

At the height of the pork barrel scam, we mapped the distribution of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF), just to check if it was really performing its intended "equalizing" function as claimed by the ponente of a 1994 Supreme Court ruling.

We illustrated how the pork barrel scam works through Pork Tales, an illustrated story about the players and the modus operandi that allowed Janet Napoles and many lawmakers to blatantly steal billions in funds from public coffers. We stayed with the story and monitored lawmakers mentioned in the Commission on Audit's report on the PDAF who won in the 2016 elections.

The investigative reports, the explanatory pieces, and the sustained reporting on the budget are all part of the effort to keep the public aware of how our money is being spent.  

We hope to keep doing stories like these. To do that, we need your support. – Rappler.com