Friday, November 27, 2020
 

Pussyfooting around the FOI Act

 

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WE are sure that the Palace’s pussyfooting around the Freedom of Information Act—and President Aquino’s virtually having turned his back on his campaign pledge to prioritize it—contributed a lot to the steep drop in the President’s latest (March) SWS approval rating.

Approval of his performance against graft and corruption went down. Information—total transparency if possible—about what the government offices are doing is what stops crooks from going through with their corrupt schemes.

Malacañang has tried to explain why it is taking time to submit its version of the Freedom of Information bill.

It says it is still drafting a new FOI bill which will balance the right to information of the people with the concerns of government agencies with regard to their ability to keep things confidential.




This explanation, which the soft-spoken Presidential Spokesman Mr. Edwin Lacierda gave reporters, is a good example of incomprehensible doublespeak.

The Palace people—in one report it is Deputy Secretary Manuel Quezon 3rd who is in charge of the project—are said to be taking elements from the Tañada bill and other models.

Why doesn’t President Aquino just certify the Tañada bill? Everybody liked it in 2010. It was nearly passed minutes before the House adjourned last year but for the absence of a few congressmen, which caused the lack of a quorum.

Apparently, the Palace boffins (that’s Brit colloquial or slang for “technical expert”), are studying, among other models, the British one. Beware of copying the British government’s system of pretending to be transparent. Its stringent official secrets regulations are almost no better than those of the People’s Republic of China. Journalists could land in jail for refusing to divulge sources.

When the President was campaigning he kept saying that he was all for the FOI bill and that it would help him carry out his anti-corruption program to make our government follow the “Matuwid na Daan” (The Straight Path). He even had some unpleasant things to say about the congressmen (allies of then Speaker Nograles and then President Gloria Arroyo) who caused the lack of a quorum and prevented the sure passage of Congressman Tañada’s bill.

Why has PNoy changed?

Now that he is our highest leader, the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Philippine, Inc., which he plans to prosper by entering into dozens of public-private partnerships (PPPs) mainly with foreigners, he has become hostile—there is no other word for it—to the original Tañada FOI bill. Is it because the deals with the prospective PPP investors need to be less transparent than the Tañada FOI bill as a law would require?

Who are these government officials, and in which government agencies are they, who wish to castrate the Tañada FOI bill to allow them their desired “confidentiality.” The original—by the esteemed grandson of the great Lorenzo M. Tañada, democrat, patriot and nationalist, co-worker of Claro M. Recto—contains all the safeguards necessary to keep hidden matters pertaining to national security, diplomacy and even economic and commercial trade secrets.

What other matters do they want to keep confidential? The identities of military officers who commit forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings?

Another newspaper, the Tribune, headlined the news “Palace wants ‘absolute’ exemptions for Aquino on FOI bill.” It maliciously implied that the President himself wants the FOI bill to build a cordon around information concerning his decisions and actuations. Cover the President’s acts with a giant condom?

Our reporter quotes Mr. Lacierda saying: “The President wants a bill that would clearly address the concerns not only of the FOI advocates, but also to make sure that we are able to address the concerns of the government agencies and certain government confidentialities. We want to have a happy balance between the right to information as well as protecting the government information.”

Yes, we are aware that there is such a thing as “government information” which must be kept out of sight. But why does, in the same breath, Mr. Lacierda speak of desiring transparency.

Mr. Aquino himself has indulged in doublespeak, admitting that he is not comfortable with the concept that all “raw information” on government affairs must be publicized but in the same breath saying that he does not wish to hide information of public interest.

And as if to hide his own shame at now being engaged in torpedoing the FOI, Mr. Lacierda, who was once an enthusiast of the Tañada bill, says, “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.” Except that he just could not be transparent about the way the FOI bill is shaping up and who is it who really wishes government to be secretive and opaque.

The Aquino administration’s fight against corruption will be reduced to shadow-boxing without the kind of FOI Act that would have been created by passing the original Tañada bill.

By rejecting the original FOI bill, President Aquino and his men are indicating that they too are afraid of the people acquiring Information Power, that they no longer believe in making government transparent, that they no longer want the people as their ally against corrupt men and traitors to the Constitution and the Republic.



 
 

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