Considering that President Aquino promised yet promptly flip-flopped on the Freedom of Information act upon election, it does stand to wonder what the big deal is about this law that, 21 years after being first filed, is still being met with so much resistance from the government.
The President has been saying, in essence, that too much information, too much transparency could prove more harmful than good for this country, often in reference to media outfits who are on the government’s case, 24/7, like a gadfly the Aquino administration can’t quite swat away because of that pesky thing called a constitutional right to information. Y’know, the very kind of thing his mom fought  for during EDSA, and what his dad died for even before that? Yeah, apparently, too much of that is bad.
Bad? For whom?
Knowledge is power. For the government to withhold information because of an arbitrary and unfounded fear of what people could do with information like government expenditures and liquidation reeks of scare-mongering. History has shown that oppressive institutions perpetuate their hold on power by monopolizing the flow of information, and this last gasp at maintaining the status quo is exactly just that: a desperate move to continue monopolizing that power.
Well, I may not be a lawyer, but after going through the proposed FOI Act by Representative Tanada, I found a few bits and pieces that might raise red flags. If you happen to be a corrupt government official hoping to get away with it all, that is.
So again, I need to ask. If information like this is bad, for whom is it bad? We’re about to find out.
8-FOI-photo 8
Found In: Section 5.
This Means: If a government agency wishes to withhold information, the burden of proof is upon them to prove that the requested information is excluded from the coverage of the law.
Good Because: It upholds our constitutional right to information while still giving room for important state secrets to be withheld from us, as should be a reasonable compromise.
Scary Because: If you happen to have some skeletons in the closet, you now have to come up with a better excuse than just flat-out refusing to give access to information when it is requested of you.
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
8-FOI-photo 7
Found In: Section 9(e).
This Means: If a request for information is considered valid, you can’t sit on red tape to functionally keep someone from accessing the information they requested of you. There are exceptions, of course, but the norm is 7 days, not the exception, and according to Section 9(g), any extensions need to be brought to the attention of the one requesting the information, so they can determine they’re not just being given the runaround.
Good Because: It’s timely. That’s good, right?
Scary Because: As technology marches on, just running your documents through a paper shredder to hide any evidence of shenanigans becomes much less feasible, and with only a week to comply with a request, “cleaning up” the information you’re about to provide becomes far more difficult.
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
8-FOI-photo 6
Found In: Section 12.
This Means: When the act becomes law and the law gets enacted, you have to document the range of information at your disposal as an agency and the means by which you document this information.
Good Because: We would have a better idea who knows what, and in turn, would allow us to request information more appropriately and efficiently.
Scary Because: If your means of bookkeeping is in any way not on the up and up, red flags are immediately raised. Why would you list down how much barangay captains are spending on White Rabbit wrappers, for a ridiculous example?
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
8-FOI-photo 5
Found In: Section 14.
This Means: Government websites need to be updated regularly to keep people informed about transactions that concern them. Every 15 days, to be exact.
Good Because: Well, not only does this force transparency with things that normally end up being sweetheart deals dealt with under the table, it also keeps a few tech people employed, and who doesn’t want more jobs to go around?
Scary Because: Every transaction of note? You mean the ones worth millions or billions that normally take an investigative journalist to unearth and then make sense of? Anyone with net access can now see all that? Oh, my!
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
8-FOI-photo 4
Found In: Section 16.
This Means: The drive of the law is to make openness what is to be expected from the government, rather than a praiseworthy exception.
Good Because: Even if we assume the best of our president and believe he has, individually, been transparent and beyond reproach, this does not excuse keeping the easily exploitable system around him untouched. That’s akin to having a Pope who serves the poor and commutes while doing so, yet the people under him lead extravagant lifestyles. If the system itself is inept, you need to bank on exceptionally good people to make it work. That’s ridiculous.
Scary Because: Can old dogs learn new tricks? A lot of these people have been so secretive for so long. Will their bad, inefficient habits come to light? That can’t look good for them.
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
8-FOI-photo 3
Found In: Section 13.
This Means: You can always get a second opinion and go over the head of someone who denied you information, regardless of grounds.
Good Because: If people couldn’t appeal cases, then there would be even more people wrongfully put in prison than there are now. It’s a right we all have.
Scary Because: You and your friends may be in on this plan, but your boss? How about your boss’s boss? You sure you want to roll the dice on that, if you have skeletons in your closet?
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
8-FOI-photo 2
Found In: The explanatory note.
This Means: The system used to acquire information from, say, the DSWD, will be mostly the same as the system you will use to gain information from the AFP. You don’t have to be inundated with countlessly varying forms, and with everything this streamlined and universal, you cannot be led around in circles as much as they currently can.
Good Because: The government becomes more efficient and efficiency is good when what we need is a government responsive to our needs.
Scary Because: You can’t just stupefy the citizenry with a metric ton of red tape when they are fully aware what the steps are coming in.
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
8-FOI-photo 1
Found In: The entirety of the law.
This Means: What we, the citizens find oppressive to us is not oppressive when applied to the government. Why the different standard? because they represent us, and as such, are not afforded the same rights to privacy that we enjoy, since they chose to serve the public. This is why the Cybercrime Law doesn’t fly with us, while the FOI doesn’t fly with them.
Good Because: It makes the government more accountable to the people. PNoy’s “boss,” remember?
Scary Because: A law like this enacted properly does not make distinctions or cater to entitlement. It only recognizes information. When you have politicians who have to ask “kilala niyo ba ako?” to engender respect (or fear), this could not possibly be in their favor.
Good For: The citizenry.
Scary For: Government officials who have a lot to hide.
Again, I’m not a lawyer. But after going through the law and looking at it closely enough, it’s fairly clear who has everything to gain and who has everything to lose from this law.
And now, it makes so much sense why there are those who insist on making sure the FOI Act never sees the light of day.
Please post your thoughts/reactions in the Comments Section.

Kel Fabie

Kel Fabie. is a DJ, host, mentalist, satirist, comedian, and a long-time contributor to 8List (Hello, ladies!). He has an Oscar, a Pulitzer, a Nobel, and two other weirdly-named pet dogs. He blogs on mistervader.com.

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