REPORTERS HAVE many horror stories on the difficulty of accessing public documents from government custodians, despite the clear assurance of transparency by the 1987 Constitution.
As any reporter worth his salt will tell you, the act of sourcing public documents may test your patience and perseverance to the limit. For something that should be as simple as requesting copies of an official’s statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN), a journalist must have the values of a saint, the persistence of a sinner, and the resourcefulness of a spy – not to mention the patience of a monk.
Anyone should be able to tell you that you shouldn’t have to be a saint, a spy, or even a mediaman to access government records. You just need to be an ordinary concerned citizen. The reason they are called government records is because they are meant to be available to any citizen who wants to have a role and a voice in the way his government is run. The fact that one must first be canonized by the Pope or have the skills to go head to head with Jason Bourne before one can access government records is a telling reminder of how much we need a law that implements the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of information.
But as Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s (PCIJ) Research Director Karol Ilagan relates, sourcing public documents from government agencies will remain a test of wills and patience as long as the Freedom of Information bill continues to stagnate in Congress. Proponents of the FOI bill have been pushing the law for the last 14 years, or ten years longer than Karol has been with the PCIJ (she joined the PCIJ in 2008, or roughly four years ago).
In those four years, Karol’s primary job has been to source documents – she threatens, cajoles, harangues, woos, courts, and otherwise threatens to rain fire and brimstone of government agencies that continue to keep their records secret. Sometimes she strikes gold, many times she gets the runaround.
In an essay she wrote for the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s Philippine Journalism Review, Karol talks about why we desperately need that FOI law – journalists, civil society otganization members, and every ordinary Juan.
Read Karol’s essay at the CMFR website here.