The Freedom of Information bill is dead. Again.
As I write this, the last session day of the 16th Congress winds down - an early end in anticipation of the upcoming national elections in three months' time - and legislation that will expand public access to most government documents, an obvious cornerstone in the Aquino administration's fight against corruption, has withered again in the Lower House.
Over the past week the House Committee on Public Information continued to dither when faced with the task of deliberating over the FOI bill. Meetings were cancelled, other items were tackled, and excuses were found, the most important of which was Malacañang's reiteration that Noynoy Aquino is not bent on certifying the bill as urgent, a move which could singlehandedly fasttrack its approval in the Lower House and get the ball rolling, as it did with the equally controversial Reproductive Health bill, or as it's called now, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012
Granted, once it passes the Lower House there will still be a lot of things to do: a bicameral committee to even out the kinks between the House's version of the law and the Senate's version of the law - the latter long waiting for a companion, as the Senate passed the bill easily. When both bills are unified, only then does it reach Malacañang, where the president can either sign it, let it lapse into law, or veto it.
I've said my piece in a blog entry I wrote a couple of months ago
. Also worth a read is the statement released by the Right To Know, Right Now! Coalition
, reiterating the need for an FOI bill. Now I only have a few thoughts, ones I haven't thought completely through since they all just occurred to me in the past few minutes.
Campaign period hasn't officially begun and yet we have political advertisements left and right. On my drive to work this morning I heard Ernesto Maceda talk to "Gangnam Style" and a song showing Mitos Magsaysay off. And, of course, the now very ubiquitous Team PNoy ad, introducing the candidates of the coalition led by the Liberal Party
, voiced by no other than Noynoy Aquino himself... or maybe a voice actor, I don't know.
"Sa daang matuwid, marami ang gustong sumali,
" Aquino says over an unusually grim backing track. "Pero meron ding nagpapanggap lamang.
" Cue brighter backing track as the president, or his voice actor, names all twelve of his coalition's candidates. Then, he finishes: "sila ang Team PNoy, mga tunay na matuwid sa daang matuwid.
And then, right at the end, another voice - imagine the deep-voiced guy who speeds off with the fine print in a medicine ad, the guy who says "Paracetamol is the generic name of..." or something like it - delivers the kicker. "Sa daang matuwid, mag-ingat sa hindi tunay.
The irony of it all is, it's the president himself who's the pretender. Sa daang matuwid, ang presidente mismo ang hindi tunay.
Yes, talk to me about how Aquino has steered the country towards a turnaround. At least the statistics say so. Another record high for the Philippine Stock Exchange. Another record high for this administration.
I've seen that retweeted far too often. The peso is gaining ground. Sooner or later, the investments will come and the jobs will follow. I'm not exactly sure if all this is entirely because of Noynoy's handiwork - I think it's safe to say there were external factors too - but I'm not here to argue that. But of course, I have to point out that the poorest of the poor still see these statistics as mere numbers.
Yes, talk to me about how Aquino has shown political will in some of the most pressing issues the country is facing. Kudos to him for taking a subtle yet strong stance in our territorial squabble with China, although his approach was more of a pragmatic one, because we didn't really have much of a choice. Kudos to him for finally getting the RH bill passed and signed into law, although it helps that at his disposal is a Congress occupied mostly by turncoats who shift allegiances to stay in favor.
Yes, talk to me about how Aquino is serious about clamping down on corruption. He did, after all, manage to kick Renato Corona out of the Supreme Court. The Ombudsman has been actively and freely pursuing cases against government officials, although you can say it's done the same thing under the previous administration. Mostly from the previous administration, and not much of a word when Aquino's own allies find themselves scrutinized. And then there's the fact that Aquino's name has yet to be stained in any controversy revolving around the misuse of public funds, or presidential privilege, or whatever. This guy, you might say, has taken fighting corruption close to his heart.
If that is the case, then what is he afraid of?
Why did he dilly-dally when it comes to the FOI bill, a proposal that many have said would help his fight against corruption? Why did he turn back on his vow to pass the bill? Why did he leave the fate of the bill to a Congress that obviously wouldn't act without his tacit approval? Why did he not give his tacit approval in the first place?
Does he have anything to hide? Do his allies have anything to hide? Does he not understand the value of free access to information to a democracy he's always espoused in his speeches? Does he realize that exposing misdeeds in government - some of which still exist despite the happy sunny world this administration wants us to see - makes the public more vigilant, and that far outweighs any noise and discomfort the revelations might unearth?
Does he prefer a quiet, content citizenry over an active, vigilant one? Does he want the world to see a Philippines that sweeps everything wrong under the rug? Does he want the right kind of peace and stability for this country?
It's been almost three years since Noynoy Aquino assumed power, and we haven't seen a corruption scandal as grand as the past decade's - none of Estrada's cronies' stocks and mansions, none of Arroyo's misused fertilizer funds and under-the-table broadband deal. But that doesn't mean we are in a better state as before, the same way news of an improving economy mean we are in a better state as before. The government has only laid half the framework to getting the Philippines back on track. They have dragged their feet on the other half - the half that makes sure that corrupt practices can be minimized, if not eradicated - and that is the gravest act of all.
For his lack of initiative when it comes to the Freedom of Information bill, I accuse Noynoy Aquino of turning a blind eye to corruption, of encouraging corruption, of abetting corruption.
Sa daang matuwid, ang presidente mismo ang hindi tunay.