The FOI Bill and the Fight Against Corruption

This article is a revised version of the opinion article that was originally published in Asian Correspondent on August 8. Click here to view the original post.

During a critique session, the evaluator said that the original article showed weaknesses in terms of style and syntax. The paragraphs were too long and the sentences could be further simplified. The links were very useful but more links to the sources were needed. However, the class professor noted that what was “remarkable” about the article was that it was able to “send a message” as it was able to get good comments from readers.

The new Philippine administration has been emphasizing that its main agenda is to end corruption. In his State of the Nation Address, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III stressed the importance of making corrupt government officials accountable for their actions. If his administration is serious in stamping out corruption, passing the Freedom Of Information Bill into law is a great way to start.

On July 28, the UP Mass Communicators Organization (UP MCO), a duly-recognized student organization based in the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), held a symposium entitled “Figment of Imagination?: Exposing the controversy behind the Freedom of Information Bill.” I believe that the points that were raised by the speakers during the forum are worth pondering as they shed light on how the FOI bill can be helpful in combating corruption.

“Passage of the FOI bill into law will help the media perform its role as the watchdog of the government,” said National Union Of the Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Secretary-General Sonny Fernandez. It is indeed media’s responsibility to serve the public interest and it does so by being critical of the government and exposing the wrongdoings of government officials. With the FOI bill passed into law, media practitioners can perform these roles and practice their profession without threats of not being able to acquire information held by the government. Philippine journalism still has a long way to go in terms of freedom and responsibility and the FOI bill will be a big help as it encourages press freedom and enhances journalism. It will help develop a media that is dedicated to ensuring good governance by helping the public make informed decisions as to making their leaders accountable.

The speakers emphasized that aside from helping the media, the FOI bill also serves as the public’s defense against corrupt government officials. It is no question that these same government officials are the ones who are making it difficult for the passage of the bill into law. This was pointed out by former Manila Representative and Chairman of the Committee on Public Information Bienvenido Abante Jr. when he said, “We don’t have 10% of our congressmen who are idealistic, who would want to see real, incorruptible, and transparent governance. Most of them are hypocrites who protect their personal interests.” It is so frustrating to know that when it comes to rampant corruption, it all boils down to who he is in power.

Citizen empowerment is the main reason why the FOI bill will bring about a revolutionary change. It turns the handling of power from the government officials to the citizens. Right to Know Right Now! Coalition spokesperson Nepomuceno Malaluan said, “We are realizing more and more that the passing of the FOI act is a question of power. Are our congressmen willing to give the citizens the power to check on the government and give them the services that are due them?” Government officials must give this power to the citizens as the people’s right to know is a fundamental right that is enshrined in the 1987 constitution of the Philippines. If this bill is passed into law, it will be easier for the citizens to acquire information from the government as the bill provides precise procedures and time-frame for compliance. Citizens have the right to know how the government budget is allocated, how the government is spending the people’s money, and whether or not money intended for government projects are spent wisely. By encouraging active citizen participation, the FOI bill will also contribute to nation building as it will force government officials to internalize and craft government policies well. It will put pressure on government officials to be transparent as it provides punishment for those who violate the right to information.

Filipinos must remain vigilant towards government actions regarding the FOI bill. As President Noynoy Aquino is regarded as “The People’s President” and the new symbol of hope and democracy for the Filipino people, a lot is expected from him and the 15th Congress in terms of uplifting the Philippines from its status as one of the most corrupt countries in Asia. The Filipinos have long been hoping for change in the form of a more transparent and a more accountable government. I hope that the President will not disappoint his country and his people by turning the FOI bill from a figment of imagination to a resounding truth and reality.

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