Of protests and genuine public service: Freedom of Information for 2012

If one may liken the age of the Philippine Freedom of Information bill to an old commercial, one can say that she is no longer a baby because she is now a lady. Had she been a true human being, she would have been one of the numerous addicts of the WTF generation (Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook). At 15 years of age, she would have already started dating and may even be a prime candidate for unwanted pregnancy or drug addiction. She would be smack in the middle of the arguments of extending Grade 6 to Grade 7, and the arguments on sex education as part of the school curriculum.

Excellent house bills are not supposed to reach puberty while waiting for their enactment in Congress.

Long overdue is an understatement. The numerous debates on whether the law shall be made retroactive (applicable to old government contracts and records) or proactive made it a little famous for a while, with the former being pushed by traditional politicians in their efforts to shut off the inquiries on old questionable contracts. The issue on security was also raised up, but any Tom, Dick, and Harry can attest that with the right verbiage, it is completely possible to exclude the matters that involve national security and leave the rest of the government’s database open for public viewing and scrutiny.

Time Magazine’s person of the year for 2011 was the generic Protester, the one who wanted change that can make and rebuild an otherwise stagnated system. Such is the spirit which is globally lauded in the year past and the years to come. Such spirit is supposedly embodied in the almost archived and yet to be approved bills such as the long-standing Freedom of Information Bill in the Philippines. It is supposed to clear the shady cobwebs that make the people lose their trust in the government, for it is the way which grants the average Juan access to government records and information.

Unfortunately, unlike the Time-awarded Protester that it should resemble, the Freedom of Information bill is almost reduced to a whisper. It is merely placed under the rug, while there is a sea of floating issues and unnecessary sensationalism that capitalize on many other things except for the substantial ones that can really bring in some positive and long lasting change.

There are celebrity breakups, balls being cut, and a heated exchange of words from one public figure to another. There is the ceaseless bickering and politicking. There are the ruminations on the dating life of the President. While all these may be found amusing, it dodges the real deal being made at the very top of the bureaucracies that bind the nation. And these real deals, when unchecked in public view, become future nightmares that give birth to scandals such as the infamous ZTE deal, the LTO-Stradcom conflict, and many others.

It is every tax paying Filipino’s right to see where his or her meager or large contributions are going in as far as developing this country is concerned. It is his or her necessity to know what goes on behind the transactions that affect the country to learn more of the strategy of the people who are in charge of these transactions. Only then can they really see if they are being represented well in Congress and elsewhere in the world. On top of making this democracy work in the truest sense of the word – the transparency promoted by the Freedom of Information bill gives every Filipino the foresight to determine who deserves to be elected, and the informed choice of discovering the rotten apples in the sadly corrupted political bunch.

It is not enough to see government projects move left and right with ribbon cutting ceremonies and low-detailed press releases. The one sure way to achieve the necessary progress is by really being true to the essence of democracy: that the people or constituents are the bosses and the ones elected are their trusted public servants. And as bosses, they are entitled to seeing the record books of the government in its efforts from going from one point to another in its management of the country’s resources. Part of going in the straight road is having a means to really see that the way is, indeed, straight.

The Freedom of Information bill is more than just a Constitutional right of access to information. It embodies the very heart of being a citizen in a democratic country. It is the promoter of consciousness among the masses, in order for them to make informed critiques and not just waste time attacking things they are kept in the dark from. It is no longer enough to feel the general malaise from not knowing what’s going on. Opening the gateway of more access to information will encourage people to get involved and even possibly synergize with the government to find real solutions that benefits the common good and not just a few selected and privileged pockets.

For every end, there is a beginning. Many people think of 2012 as the end. But for the information age, this is just the beginning and the tip of the iceberg. And the iceberg that is our socio-political situation is in dire need of more transparency and movement. At its 15th year of being a bill that has been rewritten, rehashed and argued over, the Freedom of Information is more than ripe for enactment by our legislators. If not given attention, it will slowly rot and become a useless piece of paper.

May 2012 treat the “lady in waiting” to its full ratification. And may she not reach the point of meaninglessly having wrinkles in the Congress library’s coffers. She deserves to be asked out by everyone and eventually married to the other effective statutes of this country. And perhaps, we will earn more than the admiration of Time. We will also reap positive benefits for all time because of more informed constituents and more conscientious public service.

Isulong ang Freedom of Information Bill!


Photo: “Freedom !” by Alban Gonzalez, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved