Congress remains seemingly fickle about the freedom of information (FOI) bill, but one study may well show why the Philippines should adopt such a law.
A prize-winning study at the University of Missouri found that countries with freedom of information laws “have lower incidence of corruption” and a better quality of life than nations that just recently enforced such a measure or have none at all.
The study by former INQUIRER reporter Edson Tandoc Jr., a Fulbright scholar and doctoral candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism, found that nations long implementing legislated transparency experience less corruption.
“The findings of the study can inform countries without an FOI law—such as the Philippines—of the benefits that come with guaranteeing right to information to its citizens. The study shows that countries with mature FOI laws tend to have much lower corruption levels and higher standards of living than countries with younger laws, or no laws at all,” Tandoc said.
An FOI bill is pending in the House committee on public information, with lawmakers unable to decide whether to support the measure.
President Benigno Aquino III vowed to make the bill one of his priorities after his election in 2010, but left out the measure in his State of the Nation Address to Congress this year, making transparency advocates doubt his sincerity.
“Because it takes years for these laws to become fully effective, FOI laws should not be considered … corrective measures [only]. Countries without FOI laws should not wait for corruption to strike before they get serious about passing these laws because they will not cure the problems overnight,” Tandoc said.
The Philippines has long been contending with systemic corruption in the government, a problem at the core of the Aquino administration’s reform program.
Tandoc, whose study was spurred by a class on freedom of information he attended last year amid debates on such legislation here, found that the enactment of FOI laws is “not a quick fix.”
He found that countries that just recently initiated work toward transparency tended to view FOI laws as a means to stop corruption.
“Countries whose FOI implementation is rated … effective also tend to be perceived as having high corruption levels. This means that in many countries with new FOI laws, the law is instituted not as a preventive measure but to address ongoing problems,” Tandoc said.
“The right to information should be used as a form of regular check on the government to prevent abuses instead of being considered … a last resort when corruption has already worsened,” he said.
For his study, Tandoc compared the 2010 standings of 168 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index, Transparency International’s corruption perception index and the Center for Law and Democracy, an organization that watches the implementation of democratic principles across the globe, including respect for human rights and access to information.
Tandoc’s study won first place in the Moeller Student Competition of the Mass Communication and Society Division for the 2013 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, an international organization of journalism educators.
He will receive his award at a conference in Washington, DC, this month.