MANILA - Senator Grace Poe admitted that the Senate passed the freedom of information (FOI) bill on third and final reading last March 10 to create some good news in the upper chamber while it was battling public outrage in the middle of the pork barrel scam.
Speaking at the sidelines of a forum and signature campaign on the FOI bill on Tuesday, Poe said the pork barrel scam was a glaring example of a crime that would not have happened had an FOI Law been in place.
Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public information, said the multibillion-peso corruption scandal involving high officials of government could have been prevented had there already been an institutionalized system of transparency in public documents and transaction as the FOI bill demands.
The senator believes the scam would not have reached this scale with the FOI there.
"Hindi! Kasi kahit nga yung mga kasama na sa gobyerno, hindi natin alam na meron palang mga ganyang transaksyon, na iilan lang mga tao ang may pribilehiyo na makita. So kung nagkaroon ng FOI noon, sa tingin ko, hindi talaga aabot sa... Maliit pa nga yung P11 billion eh, sa tingin ko more than that eh," Poe said.
She said the scam could have been detected while it was still in its early stages.
"Napakarami talagang mga transaksyon na hindi natin nakikita. Tulad niyan, sinasabi nila forged yung signature. O kaya, hindi napunta sa tamang NGO (non-government organization). Kung may FOI tayo, maiiwasan yan kasi umpisa pa lang, maire-report lahat yan."
She said 22 senators voted for the passage of the FOI bill in third and final reading last March 10.
Ironically, among the signatories were the three senators facing plunder charges for their alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Poe said Senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada supported the FOI bill from the start while Senator Juan Ponce Enrile took a little more convincing, especially on matters concerning national security.
"Sinuportahan nila ito. Senator Jinggoy, Senator Bong. Si Senator Enrile, matagal kaming nagdebate diyan. Pero hindi dahil di niya sinuportahan, pero alam mo naman, abugadong magaling yan. Dati rin siyang Defense Minister. So yung mga national and state secrets na hindi dapat mailabas, yun ang naging concern. So yun ang naging debate namin," she said.
The FOI bills seeks to institutionalize transparency in government by creating systems that would give ease of access to public documents even for the ordinary citizen, and by establishing liability for public officials who refuse to comply.
Poe and the other panelists at the FOI forum agreed that greater transparency through the bill would create a better government for all.
"Kung alam namin na lahat ng ginagawa namin ay nakikita ng tao, eh di pagbubutihin. Ibig sabihin, masinagan ng araw ang mga transaksyon ng gobyerno. Dahil ang mga nakatago sa cabinet at baul nang matagal na ay nagkakaroon na ng amag. Yun ang prinsipyo nito," said Poe.
The House of Representatives has yet to pass its own version of the FOI bill.