CEBU CITY –”The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong,”Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote.
Wait. Doesn’t that fit President Benigno Aquino III’s waffling on the Freedom of Information bill? He oscillated from fervid “cross-my-heart” support to “aw-shucks” back pedaling.
In contrast, Corazon and Benigno Aquino Jr. stood, without ifs and buts, for transparency in government. Did it ever occur to P-Noy that his waffling smudges the “draw-the-line-in-the-sand” stance his parents took?
Recall the 14th Congress’ closing day… Prospero Nograles (Davao) and Pedro Romualdo (Camiguin) led pro-Arroyo congressmen in that hoary swindle dubbed “slaughter by roll call”.
Only 128 House members showed up — seven short of the 135 needed merely to ratify an FOI committee report, already approved by the Senate and Lower House… Some congressmen were discreetly shooed away. All the Arroyos, were “no-shows”: Diosdado M., Ignacio T., Maria Lourdes, and Juan Miguel.
So did congressmen who whitewashed the World Bank road bidding scandal: Reps. Elpidio Bragaza and Roger Mercado. Malacanang allies Jesus Crispin Remulla, Pastor Alcover, Jovito Palparan vanished.
“In doing so, they built another “firewall” for the anticipated — now coming to pass — exposes of sleaze against their patron: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” Viewpoint noted then. “They fractured the Constitutional directive for transparency.” The FOI bill would have implemented that mandate.
The day after the Lower House “massacre”, the President pledged to fast track FOI in the current Congress. Thus, Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada (4th District, Quezon) predicted early approval of a re-introduced measure. That’d make FOI the “very first legacy”of the 15th Congress under the Aquino III administration,” Tanada declared.
An FOI would give citizens “access to official records, documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decision.” That’d cover the politically volatile area of tax money.
In addition, government research data, used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to limitations provided by law.
An FOI is not new. Sweden put the first FOI ever, on its law books, in 1766. The opposition had been denied financial data on the party in power’s spending. (Sounds familiar?)
Since then, 85 countries have adopted FOIs of varying effectivity.
“Interminable delays and stonewalling in requests for information led the US to write an FOI law in 1966 (amended in 1974). South Africa adopted an FOI after apartheid’s collapse.
“All indicate a fundamental shift in governance that recognizes the ownership by people of government information,” notes Comparative Media Law Journal. These occurred before WikiLeaks.
But “fortune has a fickle heart and a short memory,” the Chinese proverb warns.
In his first State of the Nation address, PNoy didn’t spare a line about retrieving the gutted FOI measure.
“Many of us are puzzled. This (is) an uncharacteristic omission by the President,”fretted Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito. “No one beyond P-Noy’s innermost circle seems to know the real reason for the omission. One can only hope it’s not an ominous sign that enemies of transparency are gaining some headway in the new leadership.”
Well, “man does not live by bread alone, although he sometimes must swallow them,“ the late Adlai Stevenson once said.
PNoy’s underlings swallowed piecemeal his grand pledges on the FOI.
In a four-page statement to the House public information committee, Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr., without blinking, “expressed concern that some provisions of the FOI bill may hinder or endanger government operations.”
“There’s a need to balance the broader right advocated by the bills with ensuring that government operations will not be paralyzed by gratuitous requests for information,” he said.
Provisions granted access to information that government decision-makers or project managers currently use. Offices could be swamped by an overload of requests for access to information.
Malacañang belatedly discovered that the Constitution spells out “very limited instances where the President is given the privilege of certifying a bill as urgent, as in calamities, presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte scrambled to added. “That’s another reason for the (President‘s) decision not to certify the bill as urgent.”
What is the polite word for B.S.? Bovine ordure, constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas suggested. He was describing, if I recall right, Bicol gerrymandering to accommodate GMA’s son.
Look at how the US Freedom of Information Act has operated. It processes about two million requests a year. More than half deal with veterans tracing documents. About five percent came from media.
Cory Aquino dismantled the Marcos censorship machine and smashed padlocks on the papers and broadcast stations. “The media’s power is frail,” she said from bitter experience. “Without the people’s support, it can be shut off with the ease of turning a light switch.”
At the Inquirer’s 25th anniversary meet, PNoy recalled that his father lived by the belief. He quoted Ninoy: “A free media is indispensable if a democracy is to function efficiently, if it is to be real. The people, who are sovereign, must be adequately informed all the time.”
PNoy can always plead loss of memory, of course. After all, “the pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.”
But for PNoy to spurn his parents’ sterling legacy is — what’s the polite word for dung?