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PIA Press Release
2010/02/01

Commentary: Freedom of Information

By Bong Pedalino

Maasin City (1 February) -- At about the same time last week that the legacy ads became a hit for mainstream media commentators, the Senate and the House of Representatives were about to put finishing touches on the Freedom of Information Act.

Such a legislative measure, once it becomes a law, was generally welcomed by private media institutions in print, broadcast, and online outlets, hailing it in superlative adjectives.

Its final passage, however, was momentarily stalled when the hallowed halls of the Senate was transformed into a battleground where, if uttered words were bullets, blood had been spilled like crazy.

*****

One feature of the proposed law that received wide acclaim is in the virtually unhindered territory of free access to public documents, official acts and transactions, complete with hard copy paper trail, all in the name of transparency and accountability.

There are limitations, of course, since reporting, despite its noblest of motives, can never be a license for the absolute, especially concerning national security matters, or privacy of privileged and highly confidential issues.

Still, the Freedom of Information Act was greatly favored over the Right of Reply Act, and rightly so, in more ways than one can reasonably imagine.

*****

The legacy ads, also known as infomercials or advertorials because of the condensed information and editorial content which these materials contain, are completely different in nature with the content desired in the freedom info law.

The former are developmental, or the good news, while the latter attempts to uncover sensational, controversial, top-secret but official documents, or the stuff that investigative reporters are challenged to search, research and dig deeper.

But in the same breath both are also similar in one basic aspect: either the ads or the freedom info matters needed to be communicated, their respective messages disseminated, and delivered to the target audience to be appreciated and understood.

*****

This leads us to the underlying principle of it all which is the constitutional right to know, the right to be informed.

Thus, if we are obsessed in always safeguarding our freedom to be abreast and updated on government activities, why is it that a free flow of information on government activities was met with lukewarm response, criticized even.

One passive reaction has always been a typical shrug of the shoulders, with a wry "the government is expected to have done these and those programs and services."

*****

Yet if nothing has been seen, heard and read, the ubiquitous question "what is the government doing?" is there for all to ask.

Okay, so there?s the question on taxpayer?s money being spent. But wait. If there?s a budget for these things, then what?s a budget for?

And besides, in the overall scheme of things, isn?t it that one party?s legitimate expense is another party?s legitimate income?

But then again, the expense and income items here are merely incidentals. The important thing is, in texting lingo, "message sent."

*****

LOCAL FRONT: It was a sight to behold on Friday at the city gym in Maasin when the youth took the lead in a year-long drive to plant trees for the 2010 "Plant-A-Million-Tree" Campaign. They are in good company. City Mayor Maloney Samaco committed to have these million tree seedlings planted in the city alone -- and not just plain tree-planting but tree-parenting as the Boy Scouts do it. Cong. Roger Mercado, an avid tree-planter himself, also pledged full support, like the availability of seedlings. All ingredients for success of this undertaking are already there, indeed.

ODDLY YOURS: There is a worldwide club founded more than fifty years ago for people who love to travel and do not mind the expense just so they can travel. This is called the Travellers? Century Club. In 2003, one of the criteria to be a member of this exclusive club is for a person to have had set foot in at least 100 countries. This was easily surpassed, so the bar was raised to over 150, and again raised to 317 identified locations all over the world. Solomon Gerber, a Melbourne-based barrister, was a true-bloodied member of the Club, having crossed 300 of the 317 listed spots. "The other 17 are mostly US military installations, so I think I?ll stop at 300," he proudly said. And the last location he had visited on his list? A hotel room in Baghdad, Iraq, at a time when the place was attacked by US and Britain. (PIA-Southern Leyte) [top]

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