Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Enact the Freedom of Information Act

Noynoy Aquino ran under the anti-corruption platform "Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap" and the people overwhelmingly voted for him based on that promise that he will eradicate graft and corruption in government. I believe one of the first correct steps towards achieving this goal is for Congress to enact the Freedom of Information Act. The Freedom of Information Act, which has long been languishing in the House of Representatives, proposes to impose administrative, criminal and civil liabilities to any public official who delays the release or withholds public documents from the media or any interested citizen. I am a firm believer in what my former boss Senator Roco called the "sunshine principle" - germs do not grow in areas regularly exposed to sunlight - and if enacted into law, the Freedom of Information Act will pave the way for sunlight to be shone on all public transactions. Once public documents are freely open to media scrutiny, I believe that most public transactions will be rid of irregularities and graft and corruption in government will be lessened.

Take for example the most "basic" of public documents: the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN). The law requires that all government employees should declare their material possessions in their SALN every year and for most investigative journalists, the SALN is a very good starting point in determining who is corrupt and who is not. But, as most lawyers and reporters will attest, it is usually very hard to access the SALNs (especially of high government officials) and requesting parties are usually given the run-around or worse, ignored altogether by the government custodians. To cite a specific example, a lawyer-friend requested for a copy of the SALN of Palawan Congressman Baham Mitra (primarily to determine his place of address) and it took him several weeks just to procure a certified true copy from the office of the Secretary-General of the House of Representatives. As such, they were not able to use the residential information in the SALN to prove that Congressman Mitra indeed was a resident of Puerto Princesa City and not of Aborlan town, which automatically disqualifies him from running for governor of Palawan. (Puerto Princesa is a highly urbanized city and its residents do not vote for governor). If the information from the SALN was procured in a timely manner, my lawyer-friend claims that they could have used it to prevent an unqualified, non-resident candidate from winning the elections. So now Palawan is in turmoil because, although Congressman Mitra won the elections (by a slim margin over businessman Jose "Pepito"Alvarez) he is being hounded by lack of residency allegations and may very well be disqualified by the Supreme Court from assuming his post.

If the Freedom of Information Act does not get approved during this Congress, President Noynoy should make it his first order of business to have it passed into law during the incoming 15th Congress. The Freedom of Information Act will send the right signal that the Noynoy administration means business and that he is really serious about stopping graft and corruption in the Philippines.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................