Congress should pass the Freedom of Info Act

THE people’s struggle for government transparency has been given a new lease of life following the assurances of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Gregorio Honasan that the Freedom of Information Act would become law soon even after it was mothballed by the last Congress.

Enrile and Honasan’s guarantees came amidst rising concerns among media circles that the sitting Congress would again defer the passage of the FOI law  which seeks to make the government more transparent.

The fear is not baseless. The small number of positive responses to the dare of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s for all government personnel to set an example on transparency by opening their bank accounts to the public is indicative of the prevailing sentiment among government leaders. Only the members of the judiciary and a few lawmakers took up the young senator’s dare.

Even President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, despite his presidential campaign promise in 2010, refused to open his bank accounts. Thus it is reasonable to presume that an overwhelming number of government leaders, including members of congress, are not prepared to be transparent enough and that they are having second thoughts about supporting or passing a law on transparency.

Another reason for Congress’ lukewarm support for the FOI’s passage is the correct perception of entrenched political families that the proposed law is a curtailment of their power and privilege for it empowers the public by giving them access to information concerning government transactions. The FOI would make all government officials, elected or otherwise, accountable for the way they use political and economic power in governing.

Information is an antidote on ignorance that allows the culture of impunity to flourish, especially in the countryside where influential feudal families hold sway through practice of patronage. It is an integral component of democracy and responsible governance.

The FOI ensures ready access to public documents and other government information affecting public interest because under this proposed law, all information pertaining to governance and public officials are public property.

The people’s right to information and of the press are so vital in society that Thomas Jefferson, one of the fathers of the American nation, said “the basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. He also said that “…liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

The FOI will also give substance to Section 7, Article III (Bill of Rights) of the 1987 Constitution which states: “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”

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