FOI and ROR in PH: Who Watches the Watchers?

In a world constantly plagued by abuse of power one of the ways to address this is to get the Truth out. Jose Rizal and the Propaganda Movement did this by highlighting the abuses of the Spanish Colonial Government -both secular and religious – and by a call for reforms or revolution as seen in the La Solidaridad and in the literary works of Rizal – from Noli to Fili and others. During the latter days of Martial Law a whit paper was distributed sub-rosa , detailing the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and Company. Information is a great leveler, a tool agains, corruption. And that is why the Freedom of Information Act is an important weapon against corruption.

In the Philippine Constitution the Bill of Rights recognizes the right of the people to information on matters of public concern – Article III, Section 7. And the Supreme acourt has uphold this right, in general. All that as needed now was to pass the law that would set the procedures. Sounds easy, right?

So far it seems it is has not been easy. The FOI has been certified as a priority bill last January by President Aquino and well let us see if the bill will see the light day. And it would seem that the version Malacanang came up with, although not perfect, seems acceptable to all. Seems everything is A-Ok, right?

Sadly, There seems to be the proverbial stick in the mud. There are versions of the bill that carries with a Right of Reply rider. Making it a requirement by law to provide a ROR for every news item. The objections with the ROR In a nutshell was there is no need to require something that is already practiced.

At this point and observing the exchanges in the forum during the anniversary of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) ; the forum held during Press Freedom Day hosted by the PPI and US Embassy Manila; and several posts and exchanges on-line. Three important things needs to be done in order to protect us against abuse of power and corruption:

First, Passage of the FOI Act: To allow us access to information on matters of public concern.

Second, Decriminalization of Libel and Promotion of Available Measures to address conflicts and abuses: This removes the threat of being jailed as a weapon to inflict a chilling effect and at the same time make plain that there are other means to seek resolution of injury done by a media practitioner like press councils, readers advocate and even libel.

Third, Accountability : Threats to freedom of the press and freedom of expression come from two sources. External, those who think that it in their interest to limit the freedom of the press and freedom of expression; and Internal, the enemy within – practices that value sensationalism over truly important stories; sloppy and inaccurate work in favor of breaking the news; abusive and corrupt practices; and reckless actions that put life and limb of self and worse others at risk.

All the talk about FOI, ROR, Libel and Corruption brings to mind a quote by Juvenal from
his Satires (Satire VI, lines 347-8 ) , which is often associated with Plato’s political philosophy and the problem of abuse of power; and which one finds prominently in Alan Moore’s comic book series the Watchmen – Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Who will guard the guards themselves?
Who will watch the watch-guards?
Who watches the watchmen?

Ironically and not surprisingly the phrase seems an appropriate reminder on corruption and abuse in government, in media and in just about any group or society. And if we seek the answer to the question of Who watches the watchmen? We simply have to look at the mirror.

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