July 29, 2011 · Posted in: Access to Information
It seems fair for citizens to expect that in Metro Manila, more than anywhere else in the Philippines, the people’s right to know and to access official information and documents would be respected. But that could well be plain wishful thinking for now.
Indeed, while President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ C. Aquino III has once more failed to reiterate a commitment to freedom of information (FOI) in his latest State of the Nation Address, the results of a recent survey by the PCIJ of access to information practices in the 16 cities and sole town of Metro Manila show that majority of the local officials and employees in these Metro Manila local government units (LGUs) continue to linger in the dark ages of closed, opaque government.
Most of the LGUs, in fact, took their sweet time in responding to requests for specific documents, unmindful of deadlines for action set in law. And if they did act at all, they disclosed only some, not all, the documents requested.
Beyond simply tracking the transparency regimes obtaining in NCR, the PCIJ audit purposely zeroed in on documents with great and grave impact on the welfare of the citizens. From April to June 2011, the Center deployed seven college student interns who filed requests for six major types of documents, including the asset disclosure records of the LGU officials, as well as the budget and development plans of the LGU. The audit also focused on documents pertaining to education, health, public safety, civil registry and property, and doing business.
Surprisingly, however, the most basic documents regularly produced by LGUs proved the most difficult to get. For instance, among the 17 Metro Manila LGUs, only Makati gave complete documents on education, while a mere four – Quezon City, Parañaque, Navotas, and the San Juan Health Department Unit 1 – provided complete documents on health.
On average, only a fourth of the 17 LGUs provided their development and investment plans, and copies of the proposed and enacted budgets. The rest took no action.
Still, of all the documents requested by the PCIJ, the statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALNs) were easily the most tightly guarded and thus, the hardest to obtain. In the mold and manner of national politicians, the local politicians of Metro Manila apparently hold their asset disclosure records close to their chests.