Democracy, Development and Access to Official Information in the Philippines

This paper outlines the state of the law on access to official
information in the Philippines, and gives an overview of the role that
non-government organizations play in promoting the right to official
information.

The people's right to official information is an indispensable element
of a functioning democracy. The ideal of a "government by the people"
presupposes that the people have access to information on matters of
public concern in order to effectively exercise its governing power. As
observed by the Philippine Supreme Court in one case1, "(T)here can be
no realistic perception by the public of the nation's problems, nor a
meaningful democratic decisionmaking if they are denied access to
information of general interest." The free flow of information about
the affairs of government paves the way for debate in public policy,
and fosters accountability in government.

The people's right to official information is not only a political
imperative. It is also essential in economic life. A free flow of
official information results in better government policies. It provides
the institutional foundation for a more responsive government planning
by enhancing the capacity of the public to provide timely feedback to
government. The availability of official information widens the base
for the generation of more knowledge about key development issues, not
only by researchers and academic institutions, but also by the public
at large. It promotes constructive and informed debate between and
among government and stakeholders, and builds consensus around policy
objectives and design. All these promote more informed government
interventions supported by a solid and broad-based constituency.

A free flow of official information is also a vital safeguard against
corruption and rent seeking in government. The economic costs of
corruption and rent seeking are well known. There is loss in consumer
surplus arising from higher prices, as well as loss in output because
resources are wasted in rent-seeking activities such as bribery.
Secrecy in government makes corruption and rent seeking flourish. It
gives government officials and rent seekers alike a wider room for
maneuver and a greater cover for any evidence in corruption. In
contrast, transparency exposes the vested interests involved, leads to
the identification of corrupt officials, and eventually develops a more
level playing field among economic actors.

Finally, a free flow of official information enhances economic
performance. The availability of information on official rules,
policies, programs, and resource allocation enables the private sector
to make sound long-term economic decisions. This, in turn, advances
economic efficiency and competitiveness.

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