Tuesday, September 20, 2011

P-Noy, POGI, Pinoys

I was telling my barber the other day that I am attending a reception for President Aquino (P-Noy). I explained to him the main reasons the President came to Washington, D.C., and New York. I also mentioned to him my involvement with a group called POGI (People’s Open Government Initiative). To which he immediately expressed great interest in joining after hearing its goals and that it allows both individual and organizational membership or partnership. He wants to be an individual POGI.

P-Noy came to the United States upon the invitation of President Obama and Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, co-chairs of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), to attend the launch of the OGP in New York on September 20, 2011.

He was invited because the Philippines, under his leadership, has been chosen as one of the eight members of the International Steering Committee of OGP. As Presidents Obama and Rousseff wrote: “We appreciate the active engagement and leadership of your government in developing this effort, and look forward to standing with you as we launch this initiative in September.”

P-Noy also delivered the keynote remarks at an OGP-related forum entitled “The Power Open: a Global Discussion” in New York City. The distinct honor of being the only head of state to address the forum was indeed his.

Of course, he also took advantage of this newfound reputation of honest and good governance conducive to investments by meeting with the US–ASEAN Business Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce in New York, and with the Filipino-American community in Washington, D.C.

Indeed, Pinoys should be proud that P-Noy’s government is internationally recognized for its efforts to fight corruption and to institutionalize People Power. Determined to eliminate poverty, he believes that it would be a lot easier if corruption were licked first. “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

Membership in the OGP is not automatic. Any country that is interested in participating is required to submit an Action Plan acceptable to the group, which is currently steered by a committee co-chaired by Presidents Obama and Rousseff of the United States and Brazil, respectively. The other members outside of the two and the Philippines are: the United Kingdom, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, and Indonesia.

I read the draft of the Action Plan of the Philippines.  Overall it is acceptable. I particularly like the fact that the Official Gazette is now online. It allows not just members of the judiciary and lawyers but any interested citizen to access the entire corpus of Laws and Supreme Court decisions since 1901, Presidential issuances since 1935, as well as daily updates from government agencies. After all, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

I also like the transparency in local governance whereby the Department of Interior and Local Government has required all Local Government Units (LGUs) to post on local bulletin boards, in newspapers and on websites information about their utilization of funds and implementation of projects.

Citizens are also encouraged to participate in the budgetary process whereby civil society organizations (CSOs) are consulted in the budget preparation.

The key factors in a successful open government are Transparency, Accountability, and Participation in Governance. In all these factors, access to information is a key element. In the case of Transparency, information must be made accessible and available openly and publicly. The public must be informed of the tasks and responsibilities of officials, who should be held accountable.

Most importantly, since ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, full participation by an informed and vigilant citizenry is encouraged. Participation by the people here means not just being informed but also in turn informing government officials, the press, and the social media of their concerns, suggestions, ideas, and even proposed solutions. This explains POGI’s existence.

As expected, P-Noy’s draft has some critics. The latter criticize the not-so-firm commitment to the passage of the Freedom of Information bill in the draft. 

Indeed many countries, including the United States have a Freedom of Information Act. This mandates any government agency to provide any information upon written request by any group and/individual citizen.

Is it necessary to have such a law for P-Noy to implement the necessary Action Plan that he commits under the Open Government Partnership?

My answer is NO. There are sufficient laws currently in place to support an effective implementation. 

One, Article III, Section 7 of the Constitution, states: “The right of the people to information of matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records and documents, papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”

Two, Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution, provides: “Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.”

Three, the Supreme Court itself has ruled in 1987 that the right of access to information could be applied directly without the need for an additional act.

Fourth, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires disclosure of public transactions and guarantees access to official information, records, or documents. The Act sets a policy of “full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.”

The involvement of P-Noy, POGI, and Pinoys in Open Government must be encouraged and given top priority. It is our ticket to instituting real social, political and economic reforms in order to achieve a richer and more progressive Philippines. The active and meaningful participation of Pinoys in honest and good governance would, as the Action Plan says, “operationalize and institutionalize People Power” and realize P-Noy’s vision of Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.

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