A participative citizenry needs freedom of information

Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said that “information is the currency  of democracy” but a rather convoluted sentence from an address by M.G. Brumbaugh to the National Education Association in Cleveland in 1908 may be the original source.

…Our democracy depends upon the possession by all its individual participants of a fund of common knowledge, which fund is the currency of democracy; and the function of the public school is to impart such a fund of common knowledge to all that participate in our democracy as to make facile the interchange of ideas and the reciprocal regard of each for the other.

To increase an effective citizen participation requires a broadening of their common knowledge. To make participation impossible requires only the absence of common knowledge. “Access to public records gives citizens the opportunity to participate in public life, help set priorities, and hold their governments accountable. A free flow of information can be an important tool for building trust between a government and its citizens. It also improves communication within government to make the public administration more efficient and more effective in delivering services to its constituency. But, perhaps most importantly, access to information is a fundamental human right and can be used to help people exercise other critical human rights, such as clean water, healthcare, and education. Access to information has been more recently recognized as an instrument that can be utilized to fight poverty in developing nations.” (Quoted from The Carter Center website. See link. – Ed.)

We, the Filipino people,  have the right to information. Information that can be used to:

  1. expose corrupt government officials
  2. create a better democracy in our country
  3. elicit people’s participation in public matters
  4. help us make better choices in elections
  5. campaign for policy changes
  6. have honest and effective leaders in the government
  7. create a more transparent and accountable government


Promote transparency and good governance

It’s been “almost 20 years from birth of the 1987 Constitution,” the Supreme Court noted in Chavez vs. NHA. “[But] there is still no enabling law that provides the mechanics for the compulsory duty of government agencies to disclose information on government transactions.”  The right to information has been held by the courts to be executory, but it is difficult to enforce in practice. The Freedom of Information Act (FOI) will make the Constitutional right to know and the state policy of full disclosure of transactions involving public interest fully operable. It provides a standard procedure in dealing with requests, and clarifies the exact scope of the right. It provides implementing mechanics for the automatic disclosure of key government transactions. It also puts in place effective sanctions to deter or make accountable the violation of the right. “ Corruption thrives in secrecy.

Steven Rood of the Asia Foundation examines the Arroyo legacy and “pointed out that overall World Bank Governance Indicators show a decidedly mixed Arroyo legacy: between 2000 and 2008 there was a steady increase in government effectiveness and rule of law while at the same time, a steady decline in political stability, voice and accountability, and control of corruption.”

The  World Bank indicators reveal chronic problems such as corruption that have worsened, “a key reason behind the Philippines’ anemic progress in economic and human development.”

Seventy eight (78%) of business managers in the Philippines agree that passage of a law on the right to informationwill help to reduce corruption. The Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) explained  that “ foreign direct investment in the Philippines is much too low, in part because of the perceptions of corruption in the country. New investors frequently consult the foregoing indexes when considering where to locate their overseas investments.” The enactment and implementation of the FOI should improve Philippines ranking under the “Institutions” pillar of the World Economic Forum (WEF) “Global Competitiveness Report” and the “Government Efficiency” factor of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) “World Competitiveness Yearbook.”


Ratify the Freedom of Information Bill today

“The FOI bill is the best gift that this Congress can give to the new administration and to the Filipino people for the promotion of transparency and good governance,” Rep. Teofisto Guingona III  declared.  ”. Nograles seemed to support the FOI initially and  in a statement in April 2008 even added that  “when there is full public disclosure of all government transactions involving public interest, subject to limitations under the proposed Act, the people will have full confidence and trust in their public officials and therefore there will be effective governance.” What is stopping him from ratifying the FOI bill?

Many congressmen have worked hard in crafting the FOI bill and a lot of  the Filipino people struggled to push for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act. It needs to be ratified today.

Letters to  Speaker Prospero Nograles have been sent by various groups to appeal to his“ strong sense of honor to fulfill your commitment to pass the Freedom of Information bill, so as not to waste the good work of the 14th Congress on this landmark piece of legislation”.  Redmond Batario, head of the Right to Know, Right Now movement, said “Nograles needs only seconds if he agrees to put into the agenda the proposed FOI law, which has been pushed for four congresses already”.  Manila Rep.Bienvenido “Benny” Abante, chair of the House committee on public information that worked on the FOI Act will insist that the House ratify the FOI Act today, May 31, 2010. He will file a manifestation about this and stress that last May 24, the House majority and minority leaders agreed to enroll the FOI Act on the agenda of the May 31 session. “We keep faith that you will not fail us today and leave a legacy of ushering Philippine politics and institutions towards the path of truth, accountability and moral governance,” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo told Speaker Nograles in his press statement.

All that remains is the simple act of ratification, an act that can take a mere two minutes of the time of the House. Such an act will benefit this generation and future generations to come.

Right to know , right now.


Photo of 14th Congress by author. Some Rights Reserved