Once more, with feeling: Conflict of interest

JEERS TO the Philippine Daily Inquirer and its columnist Conrado de Quiros for violating a fundamental ethical principle in journalism—independence, which can be compromised by conflicts of interest.

On October 15, de Quiros wrote:

“Friends of mine have been asking why I haven’t written about the Social Security System. I’ve replied that my hands are tied, the case involves my brother, Emil. But after seeing the extent to which he has been savaged in the social media and the tabloids, some of the latter masquerading as TV radio stations (sic) I figured I’ve defended so many people unfairly attacked, why in hell shouldn’t I do that for him?” (“What’s in a name?“, There’s the Rub)

“Emil” is Emilio S. de Quiros Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Social Security System (SSS). The state-run firm and its officials have been the subject of criticism since the public learned that the members of the board received performance bonuses of about P1 million each. Among the reasons for the criticism are SSS members’ complaints of “subpar” service and the low monthly pensions of private sector retirees. The plan to increase members’ monthly contributions has not helped.

It was a clear case of conflict of interest—between the citizen’s right to a fair evaluation of an event of public concern and his defending his brother’s interest. De Quiros’ situation is a difficult one. But anything he writes in defense of his brother raises questions about its credibility. He should have recused himself from commenting on the issue. Whatever the accuracy or inaccuracy of de Quiros’ claims, his defense of his brother creates an appearance of impropriety that can undermine his and the paper’s integrity.

Not only did de Quiros devote an entire column to the allegedly sterling performance of the SSS under his brother, he also wrote a follow-up column titled “Once more, with feeling“. (October 16)

De Quiros has been always tough and hard on the subjects of his criticism. How the public feels about those bonuses should have figured somewhere in his columns to defend his brother.

The columns also discussed the “P36.2 billion net income” of SSS last year to counter claims of the SSS’ poor performance. But what they did not mention is that the SSS has failed to provide members efficient service—one of the reasons why much of the public finds the SSS officials’ granting themselves huge bonuses “insensitive” at the very least.

The Inquirer could have saved their columnist all this trouble by prohibiting him to comment on a matter that involves his family member.