Gov't Curbs Access to Information Amid Senate Scrutiny of Projects
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 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.