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Freedom of Information Act: A deliberate delay?

by Edward C. Torcuato, NAMFREL Assistant Project Coordinator

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.19

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After it was drafted in 2008, House Bill 3732, otherwise known as the “Freedom of Information Act of 2008,” is yet to be ratified as the 14th congress under the leadership of Speaker Prospero Nograles fell short by seven (7) congressmen to complete the 135 votes needed. Because of this failure, Speaker Nograles drew criticisms from journalists.

The bill was drafted to give people access to public records and information regarding transactions that involve public interest, as provided under Section 28, Article II of the 1987 Constitution. One of the salient features of the proposed bill is for all government agencies to make their transactions available to the public utilizing all possible means (bulletin boards, agency website) and that they “regularly publish and disseminate, at no cost to the public and in accessible form, by print and through their website, timely, accurate and updated key information.”
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If the proposed bill becomes a law, the public will be armed with information on the transactions that the various government agencies are entering into. This can now pave the way for people’s participation in good governance, and for the concerned people to play a vital role in evaluating if these government agencies are efficient in their dealings and transactions. The more the people are aware, the lesser the chances of the public officials to usurp their authority.

A good number of civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Philippines have been closely monitoring the ratification of the bill, and the eventuality of having it signed into a law. CSOs and NGOs that advocate good governance have highlighted the importance of gaining access to records of government transactions as this will allow them to make a more intensive evaluation to determine the legitimacy of such transactions, thus upholding transparency.
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If what these CSOs and NGOs claim holds true, then the ratification of the bill during Pres. Aquino’s term can become an affirmation of the administration’s moves to combat corruption. Hopes are high as the current administration entered into the arena with the curtailment of corruption as one of its programs. From the campaign period for the 2010 presidential elections up to present, the public still eagerly awaits the government as it moves forward to translate its “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” vision into achievable plans of actions.
 
At present, only a few entities have access to selected government records and other information. In the occurrence of irregularities, only a few can cry foul, and doing so with very limited pieces of evidence can be futile once engaged in a legal battle in efforts to sanction the perpetrators of corrupt practices. If a significant portion of the general public is aware of government transactions, then the chances of eradicating corruption is higher.

Concerned citizens want government officials that undertake transactions involving public interest to be held accountable and corresponding consequences for failure to comply should be upheld and enforced to ensure that irregularities in government transactions are appropriately dealt with.

With the lackluster action of the House of Representatives on the Freedom of Information bill during the 14th Congress and now the 15th Congress, concerned groups are doubtful about the capacity of legislators to see the bill passed into law. An article by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) on House Speaker Prospero Nograles’ wealth surge in 14 years hints that this could be one of the reasons why some legislators seemed to be reluctant in allowing the bill to gain mileage for ratification and passage.

Concerned groups are wary that the delay in ratifying the bill could be deliberate as it could work against any government official, including legislators, once it becomes a law.
 
 
 
 
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