Our Right To Know


It probably makes sense to us now why our lawmakers could not and would not pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan. Image source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
At this very moment, like combing through hair with a fine-toothed comb in search for blood-sucking lice, the online and offline media have examined and reexamined the recently released Special Audits Office Report Number 2012-03 or the Government-wide Performance Audit of the Commission on Audit (COA). (You can download the exhaustive 462-page report here.) 
[The] special audit of the Commission on Audit (COA) has revealed that at least 74 legislators exceeded their annual allocations of P70 million for representatives and P200 million for senators and showed a glaring failure to protect the people’s money as legislators wantonly allocated funds to dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) implementing ghost livelihood projects under the watch of agencies ill-equipped to monitor them. (Emphasis mine. Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer)
It was such a damning report that one cannot read it without being repulsed. It reduced to tears even COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan herself. She told the media present at the presscon, “Napahagulgol ako.” (“I was sobbing.”)
Image source: Photobucket
I will not go through the details of the report since media and opinion makers have already taken it apart and put it together. Instead, I would focus on the way the report went viral. COA uploaded it for everyone and anyone to download. The Official Gazette also did the same. News agencies and bloggers followed suit on their websites. On social media, the links got tweeted and retweeted. Somebody commented, “People are more than willing to read such a voluminous document.” It’s really a glimpse of what we could enjoy if and when we have the FOI . 
Aruna Roy. Image source: The Guardian 
That’s exactly what Aruna Roy did in India with her Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) or the Organization for the Empowerment of Workers and Peasants. 
[How] much of the development aid earmarked for Asia’s rural poor every year actually reaches the poor? Huge sums are involved. In India, the government spends some $200 million annually for rural assistance in the state of Rajasthan alone. … [The MKSS] have been helping poor villagers find out where the money goes. They do so by asserting the people’s right to a single powerful weapon: information. 
Most provocatively, they held open-air public hearings at which official records of state development projects were exposed to the scrutiny of the intended beneficiaries. 
Shocking revelations followed: of toilets, schoolhouses, and health clinics recorded as paid for but never constructed; of improvements to wells, irrigation canals, and roads that remained noticeably unimproved; of famine and drought relief services never rendered; and of wages paid to workers who had been dead for years. Of the many development projects pursued by MKSS in Rajasthan, said one member, “not one has come out clean.” Such revelations embarrassed culpable officials and led to apologies and investigations and even to the return of stolen funds. (From the press kit of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. Emphasis added.)
Reading the story of Aruna Roy felt like déjà vu. Here in the Philippines, for example, we have fake NGOs and ghost projects.


Aruna Roy at a meeting in Jaipur. Image source: India Today
MKSS held rallies for government transparency, chanting “Our money, our records!” One protest rally in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, even lasted fifty-three days. 
Information was the key to every success: bills, vouchers, employment rolls. People have the right to audit their leaders… As a result, right-to-information laws have now been passed in Rajasthan and three other states. A comprehensive national law is pending before the Government of India. (Ibid. Emphasis added.)
(For “her empowering Indian villagers to claim what is rightfully theirs by upholding and exercising the people’s right to information” Aruna Roy received the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s Nobel Peace Prize, for Community Leadership.)

They did it in India. We could and should do it here also.


Simply put, the FOI affirms our right to know.


But, to borrow a verse from the Good Book, it seems easier for a carabao to pass through the needle’s eyes than for the FOI to pass through Congress. It appears that, for them, to sign the FOI into law is much like signing one’s arrest warrant. 



FOI advocates. Image source: The PCIJ Blog
If the Aquino government is really serious about its fight against corruption, it should force the passage of the FOI. By all means, President Noynoy Aquino could even dangle the Priority Development Assistance Fund as bait to lure them. Fight pork with pork… er, fire with fire if need be.

My take? Yesterday was the best time to pass the FOI. Now is the next best time. 


Comments

  1. Yep. Dapat wag nang magpakeme si PNoy at ipasa na niya 'yan. Sa bawat araw na wala silang ginagawa, pawala nang pawala ang respeto ko sa gobyerno. hayayaya. The things that have been happening are pretty repulsive. Blargh.

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