THE fledgling assertion for the right to information demonstrates the necessity for ordinary people to be architects and initiators of political change in a democratic set up. Yet, one of the biggest problems facing democratic institutions is the dwindling interest and participation of people fuelled by the sense of helplessness when coming face to face with institutions of governance.

While there is a constitutional provision upholding the right to information, it lacks a mechanism for its implementation. The proposed Freedom of Information Act, which took almost 10 years to craft, will profoundly change the landscape of access to information.

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The lack of legislation on the right to information has had grave consequences for the country. The resulting overall lack of transparency in government has impeded development. The lack of transparency has compromised the quality and effectiveness of government policies.

In several instances, the administration has been criticized for its attempt to restrict the disclosure of information to the public. Take for instance the ZTE issue. At the height of the controversy, a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) noted that since Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita issued a memorandum order restricting the release to the Senate and the media of documents pertaining to the government's national broadband network deal with ZTE Corporation of China, access to public records in general has become difficult.

PCIJ also reported that the National Economic and Development Authority, which is at the center of the broadband corruption scandal, has stopped processing requests altogether for information on the ZTE project. Transparency at the NEDA used to be "100 percent", according to the PCIJ, which conducted a six-month study on foreign-funded development projects. Other agencies reportedly turned down PCIJ requests for documents, or else released incomplete records.

The proposed Freedom of Information Act seeks to address the absence of the necessary substantive and procedural details for the effective implementation of the people's right to information as well as of the state policy of full disclosure of government transactions involving public interest.

It also provides the mechanics for the compulsory duty of government agencies to disclose information on government transactions pursuant to Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution. In Chavez vs. National Housing Authority (G.R. No. 164527, August 15, 2007), the Supreme Court distinguished this provision from that provided in Section 7 of the Bill of Rights. It said that Sec. 28, Art. II compels the State and its agencies to fully disclose all of its transactions involving public interest without need of demand from anyone. Under this provision, government must bring into public view all the steps and negotiations leading to the consummation of the transaction and the contents of the perfected contract.

In contrast, under the Bill of Rights provision, the interested party must first request or even demand that he or she be allowed access to documents and papers in the particular agency. The duty to disclose without demand covers only transactions involving public interest, while the duty to allow access has a broader scope of information which embraces not only transactions involving public interest, but any matter contained in official communications and public documents of the government agency.

Unfortunately, there is no enabling law that provides the mechanics for the implementation of the compulsory duty to disclose transactions of public interest without demand under Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution. The bill addresses this by mandating all government agencies to upload on their websites all the steps, negotiations and key government positions pertaining to definite propositions of the government, as well as the contents of the contract, agreement or treaty in a number of enumerated transactions involving public interest.

The passage or non-passage of this bill may be a test of commitment of our national legislators to transparency and accountability. Where the country's strategic directions are at stake, the critical role of public access to information to be able to meaningful participate in governance cannot be put aside. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com