IN 1776, Sweden enacted its freedom of information law, the first country in the world to do so. While it has been challenged time and again, the courts have invariably ruled in favor of disclosure.

In the Philippines, while the public’s right to information is firmly enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, access to public records largely remains limited, and many journalists under constant pressure of deadlines have had to resort to various ways to acquire documents other than what official sources could share.

For about six months, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) sought to uncover and scrutinize documents on projects funded with official development assistance (ODA). Our experience highlights the government’s snail-paced progress toward transparency, and full compliance with the Constitution’s provision on access to information.

The three-part series written for the PCIJ by Roel Landingin, senior correspondent of The Financial Times of London, reflects the reluctance by many government agencies to allow public access to documents that involve use of taxpayers’ money. The report published in February 2008 established that 7 in 10 ODA projects reviewed have failed to deliver their touted promise of economic benefits.

To support Landingin’s report, the PCIJ filed 23 written requests for documents with various government agencies. Only 15 were granted, for a 65 percent response rate, even as many of the agencies failed to provide all the data that PCIJ had asked for. The agencies who turned down the requests similarly invoked either the so-called confidential nature of the documents requested, or the seemingly catch-all excuse called “executive privilege.”

This special report on access to information on ODA projects was written by PCIJ researcher-writer Karol Ilagan. It tells of the various ways by which government agencies heed — or altogether ignore — legitimate requests for public documents, despite persistent avowals of official commitment to transparency and accountability in the public service.

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2 Responses to Gov’t curbs access to information amid Senate scrutiny of projects



March 31st, 2008 at 2:13 am


Welcome to the real world. Public functionaries treat government offices as their private preserves and consider the appointing power their “boss” and employer, instead of Juan de la Cruz.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, of the Nixon Watergate Fame continued tracking down sources and pursuing leads on what became the biggest story of twentieth-century American politics and were fortunate to have one FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, provided juicy details of the Watergate break-in.

Information is not free. Some people bought it with their guts and blood. Some were lucky to find the information by pure tenacity and pugnacious ability to look for it despite its accompanying hazards. Some get it through “deep throat”.

One way to get ahead of this problem is to make those functionaries realize that they owe no one loyalty except the government and the taxpayers who paid for their salaries. But in the Philippine context, that would be a wishful thinking and day-dreaming.

But Filipinos are noted to be daydreamers.

Love of country and the flag are higher virtues which unfortunately do not usher in sumptuous food on the table and luxurious amenities on the side.



April 2nd, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Its philippine politics… hope we could change this government. the issues on corruption is still a continuing problem. right now there are news about anomalies in the Quedancor. The Swine Scam. Still it involves millions of untraceable fund.

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