Editorial: Letting the light in

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014


IT’S been 22 years since the first Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill reached Congress. Will this batch of lawmakers finally end our long wait?

When the Senate continued taking up the bill yesterday, Sen. Pia Cayetano did something a lawmaker wouldn’t have been able to do when the bill was first filed all those years ago. She asked her Twitter followers to tweet their questions, which she (@piacayetano) would then raise before Sen. Grace Poe (@GracePoe2013), chair of the Senate committee on public information and mass media.

Imagine that: ordinary taxpayers being given the chance, using nothing but time, a computer or mobile device and an Internet connection, to ask lawmakers about legislation that would affect their lives. That’s a sign of progress, in itself.

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But the Aquino administration and Congress would make more progress possible if they approve an FOI law and, as Poe said in her sponsorship speech last September, “expose the government to the ‘sunshine’ of public scrutiny.”

They would also improve their chances of chipping away some of the cynicism and distrust with which the public greets most acts of government.

Among Senate Bill 1733’s provisions is a requirement to post on government agencies’ websites the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth of the President, Vice President, Cabinet officials, Congress, Supreme Court justices and other public officials.

A timely proviso, given the push for public-private partnerships and the effects of the pork barrel scandal of 2013, is one that includes public service contractors—like foundations and non-government organizations—in the FOI’s coverage, “as far as their government contracts or transactions are concerned.”

Don’t be surprised if some sectors raise warnings about how the public may not know what to do with all the information. Passage of an FOI law is long overdue. Without it, all of this administration’s pledges of taking the “daang matuwid” will be found hollow, and its progress in enforcing transparency, forgotten.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 05, 2014.

Opinion

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