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ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - June 8, 2010 - 12:00am

In the lead up to June 4, one of the most frequently heard sound bites on television was that Congress would be postponing the canvassing of votes to tackle last minute legislative matters. The potential law at the head of the agenda, and arguably one of the most important bills to come up for vote this year, was the Freedom of Information Act. With the news media, domestic and international coverage, we were more than surprised to see that not even a quorum could be mustered for ratification.

We believe it goes without saying that transparency is the bane of corruption and self-interest. It is in the shadows of secrecy and back-room dealing where corruption flourishes. Impunity as well exists when there is no mechanism to bring it out into the light of day. The Freedom of Information Act is one of the much needed tools in the war against self-interest in the government. Coupled with an enhanced and strengthened judiciary, much can be done to eliminate corruption. For those who have used politics as a business the FOI would likely not be favored.

The mandate of the House of Representatives is simple: to represent the interests of the Filipino people. And in representing us, they are tasked to craft and enact legislation that benefits the nation. They serve by our mandate. Transparency in all government transactions benefits the people.

The Freedom of Information Act is: “An Act providing a mechanism to implement the right of the people to information on matters of public concern guaranteed under Section Seven, Article Three of the 1987 Constitution and the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest under Section Twenty Eight, Article Two of the 1987 Constitution...”

Section 7 of the present Constitution 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...” While Section 28 of the Constitution says: “Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.”

To add, Section 27 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution says: “The State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption.” We believe the question must be asked, and answered, concerning why some of our representatives did not show up to even debate the bill, much less ratify it. The bill had already been passed by both the House and Senate, all it took was a simple ratification, then presentation to the President, to make it law. It has the unfortunate appearance of giving credence to some of the worst accusations hurled against our civil servants. If a legislator is, for some reason, against the passage of the FOIA then airing those grievances in the House is the way to go. Choosing to not show up is not.

We held out hope that the 14th Congress would leave a positive lasting legacy in the passage of this bill. As it stands now, the bill will have to pass through the legislative process again before it comes up for vote. It is our sincere opinion that any policy agenda centered on reducing corruption and impunity in government must include this Act. In passing the Freedom of Information Act, the 15th Congress will start the process of proving that the government operates by, of and for the people. As it stands right now, too readily does the moniker “by, of and for the oligarchs” apply.

AN ACT ARTICLE THREE ARTICLE TWO FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT HOUSE AND SENATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTION PUBLIC SECTION SEVEN SECTION TWENTY EIGHT WHILE SECTION
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