One of the biggest pieces of news that the Internet missed by a mile last week was the junking of the Freedom of Information bill. I narrowly missed finding out about it by chance, that chance being that I decided to listen to AM radio while on my morning constitutional. Erwin Tulfo and Martin Andanar, dropped that bomb whilst I was on my second lap around the Pandacan Linear Park, and I think I sorta screamed at the radio then and there. I scared away several kids, in the process. I was wearing earphones at the time.
What's the FOI Bill?
For most of you who aren't aware of what the FOI Bill is, allow me to educate you a little bit. What it does, in a nutshell, is that it opens the records of every government official to the public. If you think the baranggay captain of your neighborhood is really a drug lord since somebody in his position couldn't really afford buying a Porshe (unless you live in Ayala Alabang), you can request the government for his financial records. If you stumble upon something fishy, then you can either report him to the officials in charge of corrupt government officials, or you can bring a gun to his office and blackmail him with the info. Works either way. The gun's to make sure his goons don't jump you from behind.
In short, it's a bill that makes the dramatic signing of waivers by members of the congress after the Corona impeachment nothing more than human drama because these documents will be part of the public record anyway. It's an integral step in making sure that our elected officials (and any government employee, for that matter) is on the straight and narrow, and isn't dipping his pudgy fingers into the honeypot of eternal taxation.
This is a very important bill if we're serious about improving the way our government works in this country. While it may not keep unnamed clowns from cavorting all over the government, it'll make sure that they aren't making away with the taxes we pay behind our backs. And while that doesn't keep them from spending all them taxes on projects that don't make any sense, knowing that they're not just pocketing it on the sly is small comfort enough. It's a start.
Who Should Fear the FOI Bill?
In case you didn't pay attention to what I just wrote, anybody in government should fear the FOI Bill. That's because it's the best way of exposing ill-gotten wealth (a term the media just loves to keep repeating these days). Anybody who's got a few Cayman or Swiss accounts whilst sitting as a baranggay captain, say, is basically exposing his dirty laundry up for public scrutiny, so to speak.
Alternately, any government official who's on the straight and narrow should have nothing to worry about with the FOI Bill. That's because if you've owned that Porsche before you became a baranggay captain, then that doesn't count as ill-gotten wealth. You could have been a drug lord before you became head of the village, but if you do your job as the head properly, then you're safe. Until your term ends, anyway, and the cartels start coming after you.
That makes me wonder why the folks in congress haven't passed the bill yet. Erin Tañada, for example, says that 117 congressmen are backing the bill. In fact, these guys, in an act of extreme epal good-naturedness, paid for a signed advertisement for the FOI bill. That's 45% of the entire lower house.
Let's take it for granted that the chairman of the committee on public information says that the bill hasn't been junked yet, and could still pass before the 15th Congress ends next year. The only complaints the other 55% have agains the FOI bill is that the media could use it against them, and nobody wants the kind of exposure that a tabloid like Abante! Tonite can bring about with access to the personal accounts of a government official (can you say scandal on your doorstep?). But let me quote Erwin Tulfo by saying what he said: if you're confident that you can prove that you bought that Porsche before you stepped into office, then you've got nothing to fear from the FOI bill.
So What’s With the Delay?
The aforementioned chairman, Ben Evardone, was frank enough when Erwin and Martin interviewed him during their morning show to admit that the biggest issue with the FOI Bill was that elections were coming up. Passing the bill before election and campaign season starts was literally signing up for the death of their political career, since I am convinced that a goodly-sized portion of the 55% (and even from the 45%) are ass-deep in dirty dealings within and without the government. That is to say, if you're going to pass the FOI Bill, you may as well get it done after the elections, and let the 16th Congress take over.
No, citizens of the Philippines. No congressman would put the security and peace of mind of his constituents ahead of his own security of his re-election. The congress, despite being a body being put together to draft laws for the benefit of the people, won't take the steps to turn this bill into a law because it won't help them. And that's always going to be the bottom line. That's the kind of message that the events of September 4, 2012, is sending. That the government is, for all intents and purposes, selfish. So much for the freedom of information act. So what else is new?
Uh huh. Slow clap, congressmen of the Philippines. Slow clap indeed.