Thursday, 29 August 2013

A call for another Glasnost: open, clean state governance through freedom of information

A call for another Glasnost: 
open, clean state governance 
through freedom of information

"The State recognizes the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, and adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest, subject to the procedures and limitations provided by this Act. This right is indispensable to the exercise of the right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision-making."

- Proposed Substitute FoI bill from Malacanang

The people's right to inform, alongside Speech and Assembly, is fundamentally enshrined in the constitution. As such, the people, with all its aspirations, has to insist that said right simply by including the right to know government expenditures, budget, and state related matter, including those of national security being the "sovereign" that appoints those who run state affairs.

But time and again the inconvenient truth prevails as these same people, especially the less privileged majority had been in a cycle of struggle for survival, that they believe in having rights as priviledges, haven't noticed that they do have the privilege, if not the word "right" as a sovereign to expand further such as the right to inform.

As Article III sec. 7 said:

"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, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law."

So is the state with Article II sec. 28 with:

"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."

Also to think that with this kind of "ignorance", especially those of the latter lies the officials and its cohorts to circumvent laws for their personal desires: financial matters related to the state (especially those of expenditures), contacts with foreign officials (especially when it comes to certain incidents inimical to the people's welfare), and even the "order of battle" that meant state terrorism against those who are against state policies, that even turned into personal grudges against certain personalities and the affected (such as what happened in Ampatuan, Maguindanao), it is really necessary that calls for the right to gain access for information continues especially in an age where technology and flow of information as "wireless" and "free flowing."

A  yearly promise that failed to be taken seriously

It was all started since 1992 through an act filed by then-Congressman Oscar Orbos, that the "Freedom of Information act" tends to justify further the existing provision of the Constitution stating the people's right to gain access for state supported information. And most of the people, especially those who had been struggling for Freedom during Martial rule had wanted transparency within the government as part of the latter's commitment in serving people's interest, as well as fairness such as those in dealing with other countries, accounts to settle, even the money being allocated in every project taken-that somehow became an object of controversies like the Megadike in Pampanga, Expo Filipino Scam, and today's issue about the Pork Barrel being allocated to certain individuals like the Napoles clique and other nameless individuals wanting to squander people's money for their benefit.

But, other than Orbos, there are other bills that tried and failed to be approved by the state despite promises to speak on behalf of truth and accountability. That representatives Erin Tanada, Ben Evardone, Teddy Casino, as well as senators Gregorio Honasan, Allan Peter Cayetano, and Miriam Defensor Santiago, had filed similar bills, and even make co-authorships in creating a comprehensive Freedom of Information act that until today is currently tackled at the session hall.

Here are the bills that had been considered for the FoI (from 2004-):

HB 53 filed by Erin Tanada
HB3732 filed last 2010 yet failed due to failure to constitute a quorum (128 out of 267 were present while others were absent during the said session.)
HB 133 filed by Teddy Casino and Neri Colmenares
Revised consolidated FoI bill filed on February 29, 2012 by Reps. Tañada, Biazon, Teodoro, Nograles, Angara, Casiño & Colmenares,Bello & Bag-ao, Romualdo, Apostol, Del Mar, Castelo and Escudero
Direct initiative version of the FoI Bill filed by the "Right to Know. Right Now!" Coalition
Proposed Substitute FoI made by the Malacanang


13th Congress

Senate Bill No. 776 Filed on June 30, 2004 by Manny Villar
Senate Bill No. 1112 Filed on June 30, 2004 by Franklin Drilon
Senate Bill No. 1633 Filed on August 4, 2004 by Sergio Osmena III

14th Congress

Senate Bill No. 3308 Filed on June 3, 2009 by Ramon Revilla Jr., Mar Roxas, Jinggoy Estrada, Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Allan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Juan Miguel Zubiri
Senate Bill No. 2571 Filed on August 27, 2008 by Loren Legarda
Senate Bill No. 1578 Filed on September 12, 2007 by Manny Villar

15th Congress

Senate Bill No. 11 Filed on July 1, 2010 by Antonio Trillanes IV
Senate Bill No. 25 Filed on July 1, 2010 by Ramon Revilla Jr.
Senate Bill No. 126 Filed on July 5, 2010 by Sergio Osmena III
Senate Bill No. 149 Filed on July 6, 2010 by Francis Pangilinan
Senate Bill No. 158 Filed on July 6, 2010 by Teofisto Guingona III
Senate Bill No. 162 Filed on July 6, 2010 by Juan Miguel Zubiri
Senate Bill No. 1254 Filed on July 12, 2010 by Manny Villar
Senate Bill No. 1440 Filed on July 13, 2010 by Loren Legarda
Senate Bill No. 2086 Filed on July 27, 2010 Francis Escudero
Senate Bill No. 2189 Filed on July 28, 2010 Gregorio Honasan
Senate Bill No. 2283 Filed on August 2, 2010 Miriam Defensor Santiago
Senate Bill No. 2354 Filed on August 4, 2010 by Allan Peter Cayetano
Senate Bill No. 3208 Filed on May 7, 2012 by Gregorio Honasan
Senate Bill No. 3208 Filed on May 23, 2012 by Antonio Trillanes IV, Ramon Revilla Jr. Sergio Osmena III, Francis Pangilinan, Teofisto Guingona III, Manny Villar, Loren legarda, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan, Allan Peter Cayetano, Franklin Drilon

Most of which had been awaited for approval, if not being disregarded for so long, and some of the senators, congressmen behind the struggle for the right to inform had became co-authors with the same reason. SB  No. 3208, originally authored by Honasan, had been expanded thanks to other 11 co-authors 17 days after the original passage of the said act; while the version submitted by the Malacanang had been subjected to criticism especially by the opposition.

Of opposition (and misunderstood statements rising) over FoI

"that months before making a formal statement on their withdrawal of support from the Malacañang version of the FOI It was learnedmeasure, the Representatives of the Maoist communist pseudo partylist groups already have already ‘turned their back’ from it after they found out that the provisions on the executive privilege, data regarding military and police operations, drafts of executive orders, and minutes of meetings that they intentionally inserted, were taken out."

These are the words stated by the Right-wing ANAD partylist as they opposed to the said bill. Known for its rabid anti-Communist rant, that statement made last year tends to be hysterical especially that they had to subjectify that said bill as "Communist."

And describing the said bill as simply "made by Maoist Communists" and it sympathizers due to its call for transparency, it seems that certain, if not most, right-wingers are in fact ignorant that FoI had been fighting for since 1992 by those who are idealistic enough to show that the people had the right to inform what comes from their government. Yes, that military and police operations, drafts of executive orders, and the like are deemed as public property and should been known by the people as well. Also to think that ANAD had been named by then-president Arroyo during the Garciallano issue that had been leaked years before, same as those of Mayuga report that had been forced to open by the present administration; and since they are rabid right-wingers who equates freedom of information as those of "Communism", "Terrorism" and the like; it's all but plain and simple red-tagging and red-scare tactic to justify their intentions not knowing the fact that there are officials as well who aren't "Left" to justify the right of the people to gain access to government information.

Otherwise, is opposing FoI rather justify corrupt officials to use their populist tendencies for their personal benefit? Even in assuming "Freer" societies like the United States there are files left unopened such as those what Julian Assange and his Wikileaks had unearthed and opened. That Juan Ponce Enrile acknowledges Wikileaks as a good source of information related to foreign relation such as those of the US.

And since these right-wingers, especially those who preach "Democracy" and "Freedom" are stated as Examples, perhaps one should notice these:

"open government is fundamentally an American issue, not a Republican or Democrat issue" 

- Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) 2005. Speech, paragraph 22.

"Using party affiliation as a proxy for ideology, Cornyn is half right. Self-identified conservatives and liberals were both interested in transparency, just different types of transparency....  Conservatives were more concerned than liberals about accessing safety-related information.  Self-identified liberals ... were more concerned with accessing government information on principle and for good governance concerns."
(Piotrowski and Van Ryzin, 2007).

"We need a return to transparency and a system of checks and balances, to a president who respects Congress' role of oversight and accountability."

-Sen. Hillary Clinton, candidate for US president, 2008

And even this:

"A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both."

- Pres. James Madison, August 4, 1822

Perhaps it makes no sense for the right to justify their opposition other than equating things "just" as socialist or communist, also to think that freer societies lies free flow of information, that the sovereign people has the will to gather no matter what it is for the sake of informing and acknowledging inconvenient truths and matters thereof. That the America they lean much had acknowledge the sovereign's right to gain information same as those of free speech, press, and association; right or wrong.

Or perhaps, seems that the use of "national security" as a clause had gone too much as it become an excuse for exploitation and murder like what happened at Maguindanao, while access to information as all but a privilege simply because "the Constitution had stated it," strangely thinking as well such as those who had been saying:

"so the public will have access na on strictly confidential files sa Law Enforcement Offices?"

Then what is the purpose of Writ of Habeas Data that orders the court for the people to know files that are confidential on behalf of the victims? Habeas Data is somehow tends to justify the people's right to inform, but not enough as it depends on the court's order to open it; the families of those who had been killed at Maguindanao had still continue yearning for justice and also thinking that the statements aren't enough to justify, so are the families of those who had been disappeared because of their beliefs, that their names had been part of the "order of battle" no matter how innocent they are or simply because they are opposing something the state tend to insist; thus, Habeas Data isn't enough to think it had to be depend on the courts to gain an order to access such as what that commentator from above ought to complain such as "strictly confidential."

"Do we have a responsible and mature media? We should be given ample elbow room to protect (ourselves)!"

Perhaps, that quote, stated by then House minority leader Danilo Suarez, was seemingly personal in opposing, as well as insisting a "Right to Reply" clause such as in a proposed bill like the FoI. But, since the Philippine legal system had relied on to those from the United States, perhaps one should read this (U.S. vs. Bustos, G.R. No. L-12592, March 8, 1918), the Supreme Court points out:

"The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs. Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of officialdom. Men in public life may suffer under a hostile and an unjust accusation; the wound can be assuaged with the balm of a clear conscience. A public officer must not be too thin-skinned with reference to comment upon his official acts."

Or in a layman's idea: why have to be onion skinned? On the first place, legislators, state officials are public personalities and thus must be accountable in their actions, especially in accordance to ethics, morals and principles!

"A Call for another Glasnost"

Sorry to use a Russian term, but Glasnost, meaning "Openness" lies the people's need for transparency such as in every government department, and to some extent, in the armed forces, that the people, being the sovereign, has the sovereign right to overseer, assess, and criticize what their elected and appointed officials had been doing. 

Right was James Madison that without transparency lies farce and tragedy. What is Democracy if it was closely abide by its Greek roots such as those of limiting to a some privileged group and not ought to expand such as those of the common people? Or in Marcos's terms (sorry to use his'), "Of what is Democracy if it is not for the Poor?" Government transparency, just like calls for redistributing arable land, need for a decent wage and a good standard of living, as well as preserving cherished freedoms should and must be a people's call the way Robespierre, Danton, Mirabeau, or Rizal, Del Pilar, and Luna had wanted. 

“In the interim, I don’t think we have been hiding anything. We have not avoided any question that has been thrown our way. So even in the absence of any Freedom of Information Law, we have been trying to be transparent to the utmost level possible. But, of course, there are times when, especially in a raw state, we cannot discuss (the information) lest we might have apprehensions raised that are not necessary. We’re still fine-tuning exactly how it will be, the details, of this Freedom of Information Bill.” 

These are the words president Aquino stated last 2011 prior to his so-called "support for the FoI bill." Dubbed by TV5's "Interaksyon" as "Transparency even without FoI", Aquino himself had stated that even without FoI the government has to try to be transparent as possible. 

But, as time goes by, and none of the FoI bills had been passed out from 1992 to this year, while Aquino himself had afford to say that the government is "practising transparency without the need for a law concerning", then how come that same government, with the controversial issues given, had failed to justify further what the fundamental law had stated? Is the access to government information, described as "right" by the law as all but "privilege" for the few such as a court order to gain access to certain information? Millions worth of taxes, government funds had been squandered by corrupt officials such as the recent pork barrel scams and Pseudo-Non-Government Organizations benefiting; that more and more people had been threatened by those who takes the law in their hand and justified further as a matter of national security and other alibis to speak upon.
Or let's say, if the Constitution had said a sentence, why not expand it further by an enabling law? 

While those who dare to oppose, with their very own words shows that they are reducing their so-called clamour for freedom, democracy, and the like as a mere bannering activity thinking that they are opposing something what the people, being sovereign in its own country, should do such as the right to inform they way these people, especially those who are scared of someone looking after their suspicious activities, have the right to oppose with their onion-skinned statements. 

That somehow would like to ask this:

"If they are against FoI, then how to curb corruption without the need for gathering information?"

Thus, no matter what it takes, it will always be a time for the people, being the sovereign in its own country to call for another "Glasnost," a time for a people-oriented openness, transparency in a government that preaches yet fails to practise freedom and democracy.


Thanks NUJP for at least trying to make research happen.
And thanks to Miah Llanes for idea.