All It Takes Is a Period (aka The FOI Bill Controversy)

June 14th, 2010

freedom of information

I have mentioned this before and I will say it again today – I am no political animal. I am not well-versed in Philippine politics nor do I have sufficient background regarding the subject.  The closest I can brag is my cuatro in PSc10 (Intro to Political Science & New Constitution), which is equivalent to 96 – 100%  in ADNU back in College. I will not pretend I know any better. However, there are certain instances that call for vigilance especially if it’s the welfare of the silent majority that’s at stake. On such occasions, I’d rather voice out my opinion than feign ignorance.

Which brings to mind Thailand eighteen years ago. Army soldiers rained bullets to about thousands of protesters in Bangkok who were revolting against a general after appointing himself Prime Minister. The demonstrators were either seriously wounded or killed as government troops fired their guns without pity. Nobody braved military censors save for one news media outfit. That dark period in Thailand banned publication of photographs and details of the carnage. Now, does that sound familiar? Our country has its own share of gore and bloodshed to tell, as well as intentional media blackouts to cover them up. This administration alone records the highest in extrajudicial killing involving journalists.

Why is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill so much of a big deal? Why am I even ranting about it?

I have always regarded INFORMATION as something precious, even sacred to people for it educates and enlightens and eventually can spur one into intelligent decision and bring in desired action (hah, never mind the endless “and”) . Information is freedom – from ignorance, from poverty, from corruption, from bad governance, from culture of secrecy. Information control, we can say then, is sine qua non to political control. No wonder a bill ready to be ratified in fifteen minutes time, a bill that’s fourteen years in the making, a bill that when enacted would have bring to fore and uphold true democracy – met its morbid death! Its pretty interesting why the CAMARA conducted themselves that way, and in front of the national viewing public. I witnessed an interview with one of the principal authors, CIBAC Partylist Representative Joel Villanueva and Atty. Nepo Malaluan – Access to Information Network co-convenor. They were denying the absence of quorum that was the CAMARA’s scapegoat for not ratifying the bill. They need at least 135 congressmen to be present but apparently only 128 was around. In fact they were wondering why the roll call wasn’t in alphabetical order, and those that were actually around hadn’t been called.

What are our beloved leaders so scared of? If I am going to offer an analysis, I’d say that the number of corrupt officials absolutely outnumbers the good guys! If this very important bill has been stalled just like that, something is worth examining. Could it be that the bad guys are afraid of being exposed? FOI Bill will not excuse them from giving people access to their lifestyle, their spending patterns, so on and so forth.

What a waste! Ratifying the FOI Bill would have brought reforms in many areas. People will have wider access to services previously unknown to them. They can participate in government initiatives. There will be a genuine sharing of power. But for now, these will have to remain a dream. Until the 15th Congress ratifies it. Pray it will.

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