Juan dela Cruz has yet to recover from the furor brought about by the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, and now comes another bill that will excite his thoughts once more. The proposed Freedom of Information or FOI Bill has been getting a piece of the news recently, and debates won’t end, not until the bill is passed by the lawmakers down in the Lower Chamber. The Right to Facts

Article III Section VII of the 1987 Constitution reads: “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to public 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, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to limitations as may be provided by law. ”

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This is the essence of the FOI Bill, which will also allow the citizenry to access government records by various means: print, visual, and sound. But ask any reporter, member of the press, individual, or member of advocacy groups investigating government transactions, or just seeking information on public records of government institutions, and he’ll tell you that at one time or another he had had a rough time securing documents, even coming out empty-handed on some, if not frequent occasions. Difficulties

To this day, the government still lacks a standard, simple and expeditious method of according information to the public, even as the government’s system of storing records remains deficient, as government offices, bureaus, and units, albeit with automated operations, have yet to be linked by a uniform system of affording the greater public access to facts. You’ve heard of government agencies which have switched system providers but encountered glitches in their systems, and as a result have messed up their records. And to think that upgrading an agency’s procedures just to allow unrestricted access to its records can really be costly.

And there’s your traditional politician, or trapo, or the recently retired government official, who adamantly withholds details of transactions he or his office entered into. Features of the Bill The problem the public faces with government offices concealing records they ask for, or the sparse details they obtain every so often, will be addressed, as the bill defines a wide coverage in terms of government agencies that would be required to conform, and the kind and amount of information that should be made available for those seeking the truth.

Once ratified, the bill will also render the process of getting data hassle-free, as it will enforce a consistent, clear, and fast scheme of providing the right to information to Pinoys, including a definite period for government offices to comply, and lawful means by which these offices have to attend to requests for information. The law checks on over-spending; it prohibits providing access to information to the public at the risk of going over the allotted budget. And erring public servants, beware!

If the proposed bill gains passage in the House of Representatives, a culture of transparency within the government will be mandated, and violators will be held liable for administrative, criminal, and civil charges. Dividends Will the disclosure of government information to the larger public promote awareness? Will it make the latter informed of the current situation a government agency is in, or the direction the agency is heading for in the future? Will the bill foster coordination and cooperation? Will government employees and officials obey the law and provide information of public interest to the community?

Will members of the community use the knowledge given to them in conscientious ways? Will it pave the road for our country’s development, since accountability, openness, and stewardship are factors in nation-building? Since the bill warns government establishments of unwarranted or exorbitant costs in complying with the rule, or face the consequences in the court of law, will it deter corruption? Whether or not dividends will be reaped remains to be seen, since it is up to us Filipinos if we will use the information we gain responsibly, or if the people working in the government will implement the law dutifully. You know how corruption works.

Born free? And yet to this day Congress has failed to approve the bill, and each day that passes without one’s right to information on matters of public concern is a day a Filipino is denied to live in total freedom. “Any existence deprived of freedom is a kind of death. ”- General Michel Aoun Bibliography http://www. minimalgovernment. net/media/atin_20090714. pdf http://www. abs-cbnnews. com/nation/06/06/10/fight-freedom-information-bill-still http://www. thepoc. net/commentaries/11173-we-want-a-freedom-of-information-law-now. html http://thinkexist. com/quotation/any_existence_deprived_of_freedom_is_a_kind_of/206895. html