Freedom of Info Bill Set to Pass | Gurango Software Newsroom

It is no secret that most citizens feel some kind of dissatisfaction towards the governing body of the country. Of course, one can argue that this is a common sentiment for any form of government around the world, and it is just natural for one to be dissatisfied. The idea behind this is that any government could always do more for the country and their people—more than they are already doing. Though one cannot escape the fact that there are not many countries in the world that have had the Philippine’s experience with politics and government. Its history is riddled with cases of mass corruption and graft that administration after administration never seem to be able to escape. In fact, even with the efforts in the past to eradicate a seemingly endemic case of corruption in the country, it has become worse in recent years.

One of the largest factors that contribute to the existence of corruption in the country—apart from the affinity to cronyism, nepotism, and political dynasties that would need an entire book to dissect and analyse —is the lack of transparency of government activities. The activities of the government body—their projects and budgeting, their process of law making and decision making to mention a few—have all been kept under secrecy until they have been forced into the open through some scandal exposed by whistleblowers. This has been the reoccurring pattern for decades: a legacy of lengthy and expensive court trials that have often bordered on being a mere spectacle, and were exercises of political cat-and-mouse.

On July 23 of last year, just a few weeks into his presidency and 2 days before his State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte signed an Executive Order mandating the full public disclosure of all offices under the executive branch. This EO applied to “all government offices under the executive branch including, but not limited to, the national government and all its offices, departments, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities including government-owned and -controlled corporations, state universities and colleges.” Its provisions also highlighted the type of information that must be disclosed, which include "any records, documents, papers, reports, letters, contracts, minutes and transcripts of official meetings, map, books, photos, data, research materials, films, sound and video recording (magnetic or other tapes), electronic data computer store data or similar data or materials recorded stored or archived.”

President Duterte Signing Executive Order
President Duterte Signing Executive Order

A few months later, on November 25, the new administration released eFOI, an online portal that allowed the average Filipino to request and have access to information that the executive branches were mandated to disclose through online means. Some of these government agencies include Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Education, Department of Foreign Affairs. Although many of the main culprits of corruption and graft in the country reside beyond the executive branch, this move could be beneficial to pinning down any corrupt activity in these agencies (which no doubt exist). This was a significant step, if a small one, towards the grander goal of complete Freedom of Information.

As the accessibility of the internet and also the accessibility of electronic devices to access these becomes more prevalent in the country, the movements of these organisations will no doubt be more closely scrutinised by the public. In addition to this, social media at present has become a prominant platform for political and social discourse, and its highly politicised atmosphere developing highly informed youths (and even adults) that are critical of decisions of the current administration.

It is the dissemination of information through electronic means that has become an essential tool to help call out the pitfalls and shortcomings of the current and past government. Knowledge is power, and Information Technology is no doubt making all forms of knowledge more accessible to the average citizen. The FOI manuals of executive branches are just a fraction of the many resources that the public are able to tap into in order for them to form opinions about the current governing body.

On the 15 of February of this year, the bill for the Freedom of Information was passed at the committee level, with the hopes of it becoming law by the end of the year. With this historic move by the House of Representatives, the public will soon be allowed to “access to official 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.”

Could the two elements—politicised youth (or public in general) armed with the internet and their electronic devices and the full transparency of government activity—be the essential recipe to tackling corruption in the country?

At this point, one could only guess the possibilities. But nevertheless, there is no doubt a glimmer of hope.

Photo Credits: Malacañang Presidential Communications Operations Office

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