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.
HIS JOB title was impressive enough: aide de camp and executive assistant to the interior and local government secretary. It was, however, a deskbound posting that consisted mostly of shuffling documents needing his boss’s signature. That was a decade ago, and Cesar Binag was then a young police captain fresh from a stint with the elite Special Action Force (SAF) that battled coup plotters and insurgents. To Binag, who was trained in the Philipppine Military Academy (PMA), his new assignment was boring. Or at least that’s how it seemed at first.
IN THE May 2004 elections, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo maintained a campaign organization so elaborate it even included a group dubbed “Special Ops,” an infamous abbreviation for “special operations” that many equate with “dirty tricks,” or cruder still, poll cheating.
TALISAY CITY — Located just 30 minutes away by car from bustling Cebu City, this coastal oasis of relative calm used to be known for its beaches. Yet even then, Talisay already harbored a lethal secret: it was a major source of blasting caps used to detonate explosives.
THE HEART of the government’s procurement system lies on the banks of the Pasig, just across the river from Malacañang Palace. But it is not a gleaming edifice that houses the state agency wielding considerable power over multimillion-peso government contracts. Instead, the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) sits on one part of a huge warehouse that is filled to the rafters with all sorts of government supplies.
CAMP BAGONG DIWA, Bicutan, Taguig — Deep inside this police facility is a smaller camp that is home to the Philippine National Police’s commando force. Here, men and women in camouflage uniforms and black berets roam, many of them veterans of the most dangerous missions — running after rebels in Mindanao, pacifying private armies in Abra, or facing off mutinous soldiers at the Oakwood hotel in nearby Makati.
“AFTER CHARLENE, who’s next?” That was the slogan in the funeral protest march for kidnap-slay victim Charlene Mayne Sy in January 1993. It was supposed to be a rhetorical question posed by the anti-crime organization Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO). But then the answer came soon enough. The procession of names of kidnap victims has yet to stop.