Pork, Freedom of Information and Aquino’s silence


The pork barrel scandal showed the power of journalism — and its limitations.

It took the reporting by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other organizations, aided by a whistleblower, to expose the alleged shenanigans of Janet Lim Napoles.

But it took a government audit report to make it stunningly clear that the problem was far bigger than Napoles – that her alleged pork barrel schemes were just a puny island in an archipelago of pig poop.

Reporters could have tried to unearth and expose all that garbage, of course.

But they almost surely would have faced enormous obstacles and may not have succeeded in digging up all the pieces of the story.

In fact, in a country where media corruption is a problem, there are those in media who probably would not  have even tried because it’s not in their interest to do so.

This may sound odd coming from a journalist, but why not have a system in which journalists and media aren’t that important?

Why not a system in which basic information, such as on how tax dollars are spent, are routinely disclosed and made readily available to ordinary citizens — not just the media?

That’s one of the powerful arguments for a Freedom of Information law.  And it’s not surprising that the Napoles scandal has reignited interest in calls for such a law.

“We believe that this landmark legislation, coupled with ongoing efforts at promoting good governance, will be an effective deterrent to abuses perpetrated by the corrupt,” the Makati Business Club said in a statement.

This is the perfect time for President Aquino to jump on this issue, to make the passing of a Freedom of Information law a priority.

In the past, he has appeared reluctant to do this based on a fear that such a law could be abused by media. Aquino told reporters two years ago that he was worried that “some elements who may want to use the information not to inform the public, but to, rather, inflame them” adding that media “shouldn’t allow themselves to be used as attack dogs either.”

That’s a vague and narrow view. And one that, in the wake of public outrage over a culture of corruption that’s even more shameless and brazen than what many Filipinos imagined, doesn’t make sense.

For Freedom of Information, as I’ve argued in the past, is not just about the media. In fact, as former Congressman Erin Tanada, the author of the FOI bill, told me last year, the proposal is “is more of a citizen’s right to freedom of information and not the media.”

“The constitutional provision on the Right to Information did not mention it as a media right but a citizen’s right,” he added.

In fact, if Aquino is really worried about media being used to mislead or distort the truth, a Freedom of Information law can be an important tool in keeping media corruption and even incompetence in check.

Again, imagine a society in which citizens aren’t that dependent on media to be informed. With an FOI law as a foundation for a more transparent government culture, Filipino citizens could do their own digging in order to expose other corruption cases.

Aquino needs to push more aggressively on this issue especially since the pork barrel fiasco could eventually undermine the image he’s been trying so hard to project – that of a president determined to eradicate all forms of government corruption.

What happened to the chief executive who just a few weeks ago gave a fiery speech denouncing corruption at the customs bureau?

This is supposed to be Aquino’s issue. This is supposed to define his presidency.

The silence is deafening.

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  • instantlywithyou

    “What happened to the chief executive who just a few weeks ago gave a fiery speech denouncing corruption at the customs bureau?”

    Lip service sir. Pogi points.

    • dummier

      nag aantay uletng script para lumabas na galit sya sa gumagawa ng mali kahit pa kabarilan, ka allies yan.

  • opinon only

    I’m proud of the reporters in this country. Sometimes they report too much nonsense gossip but their coverage on this corruption story is very good. Keep on exposing the truth. Keep up the great job your doing on exposing these filthy animals.

  • drefaura


    I take exception to Ms. Henares’ statement, as reported elsewhere: “Henares said that the NBI had provided BIR investigators a “good lead” …..

    I apologize in advance for the CAPS, but I just wanted to highlight this: ALL THE MORE an FOI Act, much like the U.S.’ Patriot Act’, SHOULD BE PASSED so that information sharing, among other things, could easily flow between government institutions in the administration and enforcement of the PH laws.
    Meanwhile, I would advise the authorities to be very careful in the public announcement, let alone sharing, of information to the public while it is still under investigation, and no real case has been filed in the court. To do so indiscriminately would give the other parties ammunition, as it were, to file for dismissal – sharing of personal information results in an unreasonable infringement of privacy rights, a potentially significant issue when personal information is transferred between offices with different legal frameworks
    Pass FOI and PRIVACY Acts – you’d be glad you did!

  • philcitizen

    Could it be that the President is using his popularity that’s why he’s just cool on the pork barrel issue? It’s now clear that his boss is actually the congress and the senate. All the while, the people believed they were the ones he was addressing to as “My Boss” but it was actually the congress and the senate. And why not? His SONA is actually delivered in the house of congress.

  • rodben

    NO Pinas President are willing to abolish Pork Barrel….pork barrel was created by EDSA personalities… as long as there were EDSA boys in cabinet member of any Pinas president pork always their..

    • damatannapo

      @rodven, basa:

      “The Era of Ferdinand Marcos

      Nacionalista Party leader Ferdinand Marcos dominated the political scene of the Philippines for two decades after his election to the presidency in 1965. During his first term, Marcos initiated ambitious public works projects that improved the general quality of life while providing generous pork-barrel benefits for his friends.”[quote]



  • Carlos_Iho

    Aquino will push for the enactment of the FOI law, only towards the end of his term so that the law will affect his government the least.

    Aquino looks and sounds stupid. Actually, he is making us look stupid.

    • desi derata

      We should address this issue to the Legislative branch. The country is no longer ruled by a dictator.

  • farmerpo

    The Net is the great equalizer. DBM’s website should contain all transactions for Juan to verify or look at the figures of where his money is being spent.. What goes to what and to whom. Very transparent.

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