DRIFT and confusion. Some pockets of transparency but most everywhere, a predilection for opaqueness and more barriers to access in place. This is the access to information regime that lingers in the Philippines nearly a year after Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III came to power on a “Social Contract with the Filipino People,” which he said would be defined by transparency, accountability, and good governance.
But a seven-month PCIJ audit of how 27 national agencies deal with access to information requests shows spotty proof of Aquino’s recipe for good governance in the processes and practices of these agencies. While a few stand out as exemplars of transparency, the majority remain stuck in the old ways of opaque government, with some even sliding back into darker corners.
A CLEAR, working system – with specific procedures and dedicated staff personnel – triggers quick, correct, and complete action by some government agencies on access to information requests.
But the absence of such a system in most other agencies, as well as the lack of fully defined rules and procedures that all agencies must observe in responding to requests, remain barriers to access.
Anyone who has earned more, acquired more, sold more, and inherited more should have paid the lawful and correct amounts of taxes that the government, by its sovereign right and duty, levies on any number of so-called “tax incidents” or taxable transactions on all citizens.
And anyone – not least of them lawmakers who had sworn to uphold and enforce the laws – who fails to file tax returns, with the correct amounts and within deadline, is certain to send the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on an investigation into exactly what that individual has reported, or not reported.
TOMORROW, March 16, the 283-member House of Representatives plans to vote in plenary on the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez. At least 95 votes are needed for the complaint to move to the Senate, which alone under the law may sit as the impeachment tribunal to try Gutierrez for several counts of alleged betrayal of the public trust.
Yet other than the vote, the effort to impeach Gutierrez – the third attempt in as many years by the House and the only one to move past its Committee on Justice – has unfolded with two discussion tracks as backdrop. The first is an exchange of allegations of blackmail between Gutierrez’s camp and the lawmakers. The second is a vigorous campaign being mounted by both sides to court public opinion against each other.
FOUR MORE members of the House of Representatives yesterday said they were among those wrongly named as absent — according to a list provided by Speaker Prospero Nograles to the media – during the roll call at the Session Hall last Friday, June 4, when the ratification of the Freedom of Information Act was scuttled for supposed lack of a quorum.
The four bring to eight the number of lawmakers erroneously tagged as not physically present during the roll call.
The eight bring to 136 – one more than the 135 threshold for a quorum in the 269-member House – the number of lawmakers that was needed to constitute a quorum and act on the motion to ratify the FOI bicameral conference committee report.
House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor motions to ratify the Freedom of Information Act, which was objected to by Camiguin representative Pedro Romualdo. Romualdo is prepared to be ‘condemned’ for blocking the passage of the proposed legislation as he questioned the lack of quorum in the chamber ‘as a matter of principle’.
OUT OF the last 14 years, lawyer Prospero Castillo Nograles spent 12 years as congressman of the first district of Davao City for five terms, and the last 27 months as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the 14th Congress.
A leader of the 12th and 13th Congresses as well, Nograles by 2008 authored 17 House bills and co-authored 86. He also helped pass laws, including the Rent Control Law, which limits increases in rentals, and the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
WHAT SECRET or secrets of the House of Representatives under Speaker Prospero Nograles would escape public scrutiny, amid Congress’s failed effort to ratify the Freedom of Information Act last Friday?
Many have asked that question after noting that Nograles himself had co-authored House Bill No. 3732, the lower chamber’s version of the FOI bill, which was authored by a full two-thirds or 181 of about 220 House members.