THE public’s right to information is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution, but the absence of an enabling law has apparently enabled various government agencies and officials — including Supreme Court justices — to violate this.

Some agencies do know and observe the Constitution’s guarantee of transparency, which is a prior condition to good governance. Far too many others, however, seem stuck in confidentiality mode and require prodding and coaxing to release documents. The most hostile, in fact, simply flatly deny or altogether ignore requests for public documents.

Even journalists, who are duty-bound to ferret out the truth on matters of public concern, have not escaped such difficulties. For the last decade, for instance, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has been keeping a tab on all requests for information that it files with state agencies in the course of researching stories. Apart from copies of contracts, loan agreements, and data on contractors, PCIJ has found that documents on what public officials own are among the most closely guarded and the hardest to secure.

Thus far, PCIJ has recorded at least 14 cases of requests denied by 11 government agencies, with the reasons ranging from the condescending to the incredulous. This then begs the question: If journalists have a hard time accessing such information, what chance do ordinary citizens have of having similar requests approved?

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