In the name of transparency
Just when President Benigno Aquino III ordered Congress to review and pass the Freedom of Information Act, we get news that the Ombudsman will restrict access to information about cases filed against public officials.
According to a memorandum issued by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, access to the information will be limited to the respondents, their lawyers and their authorized representatives.
Journalists wishing to seek access to such information would have to apply to the local Ombudsman offices and wait for what would presumably be a long time before their request is approved.
With her assumption, it was believed by not a few that Carpio-Morales would dismantle some of the policies instituted by her predecessor, the much-maligned Merceditas Gutierrez, who supposedly ensured the protection of officials loyal to former president and now lawmaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
But this memorandum, while not exactly draconian, is restrictive and casts serious doubts on the Ombudsman’s transparency in dealing with cases involving erring public officials.
In justifying the new restrictions, the Ombudsman said it was in keeping with their policy to ensure the confidentiality of proceedings involving the respondents, a lot of which are ongoing.
Most likely such confidentiality would be proper if it involves cases of a sensitive nature, like say sexual abuse, in order to protect the victims. We also recognize the need for the Ombudsman to do their job independently, which means not having to do so under the glare of the media spotlight.
But in cases involving corruption that involves people entrenched in the hierarchy of government and figures in a a long and tedious paper trail, transparency is of primordial concern.
We would like to hear the Ombudsman’s explanation of this issue.
While it isn’t outright censorship, the memorandum only succeeds in adding another layer of bureaucracy for the media and active citizens who want keep track of cases of public interest, especially graft cases involving local officials.
With the turtle-like pace in resolving cases, the Ombudsman should make it easy for the public to keep abreast of the cases they are handling.
This memorandum doesn’t help do that job.
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