LAST week, Malacañang announced the release of the guidelines for Executive Order No. 2, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Order, as well as the relaunch of an online central database, and the eFOI, an online facility for making requests for information, thus signaling that the order is now operational.
Signed on July 24, just two days shy of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's first State of the Nation Address, the EO covers all government executive offices, requiring that they uphold the principle that "every Filipino shall have access to information, official records, public records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development".
It is vaunted to be the first policy that operationalizes the Constitutional right to information on matters that are of public concern in the Philippines.
This development is laudable in light of the stiff fight put up by politicians in the past 29 years to foil the legislation of a public disclosure law. Advocates of FOI deem it necessary to further strengthen public sector transparency and accountability.
EO 2 is a welcome boost to efforts to continue anti-corruption and good governance work. For instance, government has to be challenged to make sure freedom of information is expanded to cover all branches of government, and that the other elements of public disclosure that have long been articulated by advocates are addressed.
Curiously, the eFOI initially covers only the Presidential Communications Office, the Departments of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Finance (DOF), Budget and Management (DBM), Justice (DOJ), and the Office of the Solicitor General.
I would have thought that Malacañang, particularly the Office of the President, would be among those that would be made more accessible to citizen inquiry early on in this administration.
At any rate, what better way to show appreciation for the FOI order than applying it immediately? I propose we use EO 2 to request documents about the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).
If, as apologists insist, President Duterte only responded to the "request" of the Marcoses to bury Ferdinand Sr. in the LNMB, we want to see the document addressed to the President communicating such a request.
We are assuming of course that such a document exists, otherwise, the President could be perceived as being vulnerable to the "we bulong" brigade that have plagued previous administrations.
We also demand to see the document that those who facilitated the surreptitious November 18 burial thought allowed them to act even while the 15-day period for filing motions for reconsideration with the Supreme Court has not yet lapsed.
Did they think it was sufficient to just use the August 7 memorandum of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana which set the burial into motion after theclaimed July 11 verbal order of the President?
I could be chided for focusing on the minutiae of records, but why not? If it is possible to cast aspersions on the anti-dictatorship struggle by facetiously saying that Marcos did not necessarily perform better or worse than other presidents because there are no studies and movies about it, then all that could be done to prevent further travesty should be done. Including going after and poring over papers.
Fidel Ramos, former president, called for the investigation of high ranking military and police officials for alleged collusion with the Marcoses to pull off the surprise burial.
The corruption equation popularized by Robert Klitgaard, one of the leading academicians engaged in anti-corruption work, posits that C = M + D – A, which translates to “corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability.”
The use of discretion to blatantly disregard established processes to accommodate the interests of a privileged few over the many is corruption, and has corrosive effects on the drive to restore trust in government.
It would be in the interest of President Duterte to investigate whether indeed collusion and corruption expedited the Marcos burial—unless he is fine with feeding the perception that the anti-corruption platform on which he also ran is not receiving the attention it deserves.
For those who mistakenly assume that this effort to push FOI and also continue the protest against the hero’s burial for Marcos is irrelevant at best, and an attack against President Duterte at worst, I recommend the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) statement made in a Senate hearing during the 16th Congress.
PCIJ’s Malou Mangahas said that globally, FOI has contributed to “two major pillars of good government—good record-keeping by public agencies, and good citizenship among people who are better informed and thus better prepared to participate meaningfully in governance.”
In that sense, the call for transparency and accountability in the Marcos burial should be viewed as supportive of good government and good citizenship, rather than dismissed and undermined.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 03, 2016.
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