August 30, 2012

We Should All Be Informed (ABC of FOI Bill)

Why haven’t you availed your yellow/green/red card yet? I do not know how to.
Why did you not vote? I cannot decide whom to vote for because I do not know enough about the candidates/party lists.
Check if you are paying the right amount of tax. I do not know how.
No, do not turn right yet, that is against the law! What? I did not know that.
Why did you do that, that is considered as corruption? It's okay, no one will know anyway.

The most common excuse that I hear people say for failing to do the “right” thing is, “I don’t know” or “no one will know anyway.” Sure ignorance of the law excuses no one, but what if the law is not showing itself? What if the citizens are uninformed because information itself is elusive? I see people who could avail so much more from the Government, yet are unable to do so because they don’t know how to. I have witnessed people commit unlawful acts, because they have no idea that the acts were unlawful in the first place. I can imagine officials who are tempted to be corrupt because they think, “no one will find out anyway.”

This kind of ignorance should end (or be drastically lessened if not completely eliminated). And I believe that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill can address this issue.

courtesy of gmanetwork.com (published august 14 2012)

A. What is FOI bill?

House bill 3732 or more commonly known as Freedom of information bill is an act implementing the citizens’ right of access to information on matters of public concern

B. What are “matters of public concern” and what does the Constitution say about the issue?

Section 7 of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution states that the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records/documents/papers pertaining to official acts/transactions/decisions, as well as government research data used as basis for policy development shall be afforded by the citizen.

Note: For what it’s worth, there are clear exceptions stated in the bill as to why some information must not be disclosed to the public. Some of these exceptions include information that when disclosed may (1) result to external threat to the State, (2) jeopardize the diplomatic standing of the Philippines, (3) compromise military operations, etc. Nonetheless, the government shall have the burden of proof in showing that the information requested should not be disclosed.

C. The 1987 Constitution already states that the citizens should have access to information on matters of public concern. Then why do we still need FOI bill? Wouldn't that be redundant?

We still need FOI bill because the 1987 constitution did not specify how the citizens can access information on matters of public concern. The 1987 Constitution also failed to enumerate sanctions to be given to government bodies and officials who will go against the mandate. FOI bill, on the other hand, articulate these gaps in the 1987 Constitution.

With the FOI bill as a functioning law, the public will be able to know where their taxes go. The bill can promote transparency and accountability in the office as transactions entered by the government officials become public. The citizens will be able to scrutinize the process of (1) bidding and budgeting in government-funded projects like road constructions and housing, (2) granting loans to different entities, (3) implementing and maintaining government projects, (4) giving licenses and permits to any entity for the extraction of natural resources, etc

FOI bill will also require agencies to publish and regularly update (via their website or prints) information such as (1) services they deliver and the procedure, fee and length of time by which these services may be availed of, (2) expenditures, etc.


I want to be informed. Who is anyone to say that I should not be?
Is your representative among 117 supporters (as of August 6, 2012) of FOI bill -via rappler.com

Note: This post is originally posted in my professional blog here: http://definingx.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/we-should-all-be-informed-abc-of-foi-bill/

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