Much to the dismay and consternation of well-meaning and good intentioned sectors of Philippine society, the House of Representatives failed to pass the long-awaited freedom of information (FOI) bill. And what an unfortunate coincidence: The decision of the House to consign the FOI to the bin of unacted measures happened in the heels of the just concluded international conference of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (Gopac), which was hosted by the Philippines and attended by several leaders and members of both the Senate and the House.
That the 15th Congress chose not to enact the FOI gives credence to the suspicion and allegation that the “lower house” of the legislature is just paying lip service to the anticorruption campaign of the present administration. And its members do not really and truly support the “daang matuwid” crusade spearheaded and led by President Aquino.
Why not? For one, the FOI is supposed to give media and the citizens unfettered access to government records—especially those that concern transactions involving funds and expenditures (except those that might jeopardize national security).
All these boil down to transparency and accountability in public service, which are enshrined in the Constitution that was overwhelmingly ratified by the Filipino people 26 years ago, on Feb. 2, 1987 to be exact. And this transparency is a deterrent and antidote to the commission of graft and corruption, a lingering ailment that has long afflicted government bureaucracy.
The Senate had approved its version of the FOI bill, but the House did not heed the people’s clamor for the passage of the anticorruption measure. And to think that the leadership of that chamber is headed by a former newspaperman, and the House committee on public information is chaired by another former member of the Fourth Estate!
The incurable optimists in us might allow the comforting thought that the 16th Congress may yet enact an FOI law. But if we go by the words of the House Speaker, it appears that the FOI is not a priority legislative measure. Consider the fact that after the enactment of the Reproductive Health Law, the Speaker was so euphoric that he exclaimed that a divorce law would be next.
Heaven forbid, the people’s “right to know, right now!” clamor seems to be doomed.
—EUSEBIO S. SAN DIEGO,
founder, Kaguro and former president,
Quezon City Public School Teachers Association, firstname.lastname@example.org