Freedom, at last, for now

Noynoy Aquino was blocking it, virtually, for years, but now, Rodrigo Duterte has taken that first step: he has signed an executive order guaranteeing freedom of information.

This means ordinary Filipinos now has access to information and data used by those under the executive branch. This is apart from official records that are already available; going through the executive order, this would include data and research used as a basis for government processes and issuances.

Needless to say, this is a very good move. This shows how serious the Duterte administration is in promoting transparency, leading, hopefully, to a stamping out of corruption in government. Say what you want about his predecessor, about how serious he is about transparency, but Aquino's failure to support the long-languishing Freedom of Information bill in the legislature showed that all he really was into was window dressing. (Also add to that how the government failed to build their case against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, resulting in the Supreme Court throwing out one of the cases against her.)

Of course, this is just a starting point. The leader of the land saying "you can ask us for information" is one thing: those further down the line saying "no, you can't" is another. There is also a long way to go before we can fully see the impact of the executive order: the Solicitor General has to map out which data is off-limits for purposes of national security and privacy; and government agencies are expected to release FOI manuals that will guide the public in requesting and accessing the information they need.

And then, when someone does request for information, only then can we see how government agencies will act around the reality that things are, well, a little more transparent these days.

That said, I hope that we do not stop with this executive order. Whoever replaces Duterte can scrap it, of course. Duterte himself can choose to scrap it. What we need is to institutionalize freedom of information; what we need is for freedom of information to be enshrined into law. I hope that, with Duterte having the numbers in the legislature, we can pave the way for this. It would be a shame if they themselves block it, because, well, I assume, they have something to hide. And perhaps they do - the current EO does not cover the other two branches of government. It would be interesting to see how much, say, a congressman spends on operational expenses.

For now, yes, this is a good thing, and it is something the public ought to use to shed light on how the government operates. Maybe the spike in supposed extrajudicial killings?

And your responses...

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