We need the FOI Act not a mere Open Data project

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Since President Benigno Cojuangco Aquino 3rd became our head of government and chief of state in 2010, 26 media workers have been killed in our country. This fact has made us the third most dangerous country for journalists after Iraq and Somalia. That assessment is that of the Human Rights Watch, the international HR watchdog based in New York City.

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HRW chastises the Aquino administration for giving Human Rights mere lip service. In only six of the cases of journalist killings have suspects been arrested. Meanwhile, the kidnapping, torture and enforced disappearance of people disliked by the elite or the anti-communist military and police or political warlords have gone unabated.

It’s ironic that President Aquino is the son of Cory Aquino and Ninoy Aquino. Both championed individual liberties, democracy and a free press. The President’s father was a Manila Times reporter. What is it that makes our President turn his back on the legacy of his parents?

Mr. Aquino’s avowed principal policy is Daang Matuwid. His administration’s lack of concern for the killing of journalists is a form of corruption. It is not matuwid (straight and righteous).

When elite political and business lords can just murder their critics with impunity, something is terribly wrong that cries to God for redress.

There can be no matuwid na daan if journalists are scared to do their work by the threat that they could be the next to die.

We agree that enacting a freedom of information (FOI) bill is one of the most urgent and long overdue reforms that policymakers can do to enhance governance, make government transactions more transparent, and hold public officials more accountable for their actions.

This is the recommendation of the policy paper “Pushing for Greater Transparency and Accountability through Freedom of Information,” released by the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) of the House of Representatives.

While he was a candidate for president, Mr. Aquino promised the people that one of his first priorities would be the passage of the FOI Act that would require the government to open public records to public scrutiny. He has decided to renege on that vow.

Enacting this law will improve governance because with greater transparency and accountability, “people in government can be held accountable for their actions and decisions,” the paper says.

Without such a law, “it would be difficult to determine whether the promised services/outcomes were economically, efficiently and effectively delivered.”

Based on the Corruption Perception Index 2008-2012 of Transparency International, a global organization fighting corruption, the Philippine ranking in curbing fraudulent conduct improved from 129th in 2011 to 105th in 2012.

Consequently, the country’s position among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations inched up from seventh to fifth place, overtaking Indonesia and Vietnam.

“It may be noted, however, that the Philippines still remains at the bottom third of 174 countries evaluated,” the CPBRD brief pointed out.

The right to information is already guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution, but the problem is that it is “subject to limitations.” The FOI law will give teeth to the exercise of that right.

Instead of a proper Freedom of Information Act, Malacañang’s pet project is the so-called Open Data Philippines. The Palace claims that this would satisfy the constitutional requirement of an open and transparent governance by freely sharing information to the public.

This is a pipe dream.

For it is still the government that will determine what data to share with the people.

An FOI Act, as authored by Rep. Erwin Tañada and which nearly passed three years ago, is what a truly democratic Philippines needs.

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