Free information

President Aquino’s preemptive speech on the pork barrel issue—read on Aug. 23, or three days before the so-called Million People March—was both welcome and woefully inadequate. He showed he was listening to the people when he announced that it was time to abolish the congressional pork barrel, known since 1990 as the Priority Development Assistance Fund. His plan to introduce a new mechanism to take the place of the PDAF, however, showed that while he may have heard the public outcry against pork barrel abuse, he did not understand the depths of public outrage.

The very nature of the budget reforms he introduced proved that he wanted to preserve the two-decade-old expansion of legislative power, from appropriation of funds to expenditure. He saw it as a necessary condition of present-day governance. It is this expansion, however, that lies at the crux of the issue. When senators and congressmen who facilitated billions of pesos in pork barrel spending do not feel themselves obliged either to vet conduit organizations or account for the funds, because it is not their job, then why entrust them with the responsibility in the first place?

That is the question the public is asking, and it is unfortunate that President Aquino seems to have misheard it. He has obviously studied the issue of pork barrel abuse in some depth, but his study seems to scant the full implications of abuse.

The start of the last paragraph of his unexpected speech offers another example of a mishearing, of a subject studied in depth but whose full implications have not yet been accepted.

“Gagana lamang po ang sistemang ito kung makikiisa at makikilahok kayo. Ihahayag po nang buo ang impormas-

yon; suyurin at kilatisin po natin ito.”

The official English translation provided by Malacañang reads: “For this system to work, your cooperation is required. The information will be there for you to monitor: let us understand and examine it.” That is, by and large, an accurate translation. But the first clause of the second sentence can still be improved: “The information will be there for you to monitor” does not quite convey the scope of the original. “Ihahayag po nang buo ang impormasyon” is better rendered as: “The information will be presented in full.”

That rendering, however, raises the issue of freedom of information. The President is right; understanding and examining information are crucial to any transparent and accountable use of government funds. The question is: Who will present that information, and in full?

The answer, to follow both Mr. Aquino’s logic and language, is the government itself. The seventh specific budget reform he listed, for example, makes the following commitment: “we will make sure that each item will be disclosed in the [Department of Budget and Management] and related agency websites and the National Data Portal of the government.”

This is a necessary, indeed progressive advance. But it is not enough.

To monitor, examine, or understand government spending in full, the citizens on whose cooperation the President relies need to be able to access any information they need—not just the information “presented” by the DBM, however “full,” but every bit or byte of government data that does not fall under protected forms of privileged communication or confidential information.

As the unfolding drama over the supposed P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles reminds us, the DBM makes mistakes, and those mistakes are then reflected in the Commission on Audit reports. Any citizen wishing to understand and examine a particular budget transaction, then, should have access to all kinds of information, even unpromising leads or outright dead ends.

We acknowledge President Aquino’s decision to place completeness of information (“buo ang impormasyon”) on center stage, but we must remind him that cooperative citizens may and will in all likelihood define completeness in other, nongovernment-packaged ways.

That’s a good thing, and reason enough for the Aquino administration to finally make good on a fundamental campaign promise and pass a law guaranteeing freedom of information.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=60167

Tags: Freedom of Information , Million People March , nation , news , pork barrel

  • Flordeliza Aglipay

    Bakit naman ako pupunta sa Sept 11 rally sa Edsa e gagamitin lang tayo ng mga pulitikong nagorganized nyan

  • http://jaoromero.com/ Jao Romero

    i would have a FOI bill that is punitive and encompassing. or none at all.

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • PH will be partly cloudy in afternoon, evening—Pagasa
  • Ex-COA chief nabbed for plunder
  • John Paul relics abound: Bloodied shirt, unwashed fork…
  • Name names, Lacson told
  • Smooth Edsa ride up in 2 years, but…
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • Marinduque: Visiting the ‘palm of the ocean’
  • First at Vatican in 60 years
  • How Jing Monis Salon gave Krissy the pixie
  • Want to be a supermodel? Work on your inner beauty, says Joey Espino
  • Denims that keep you cool–literally
  • Entertainment

  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • OMB exec’s assurance: We work 24/7
  • Business

  • Nielsen sees car buying boom in the Philippines
  • How author of best-seller exposed ‘one percent’ economic elite
  • Bangko Sentral readies new bank lending rules
  • Gaming stocks gain, PSEi eases on profit-taking
  • Cebu Pacific flew 3.74M passengers as of March
  • Technology

  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • Abandoned in Malta,15 PH seamen return
  • Senator hopes PH will also get same vow
  • HK victims to get P115M; traders raised money
  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 US doctors, including Fil-Am pediatrician
  • Career diplomat is new PH consul general in Los Angeles
  • Marketplace