The FOI bill

JESSEA deeper view

By Jesse E.L. Bacon II

THERE is only one possible reason that the people could think of why President Aquino continues to be adamant about the Freedom of Information bill proved by his refusal to certify it as urgent and that is because he wants to view freedom of information from the viewpoint of those in power.

Freedom of information is meant to benefit the citizenry and not those who are in power. Aquino’s refusal is thus contradictory to his administration’s matuwid na daan mantra which is fundamentally anchored on transparency.

Aquino changed his heart of being transparent only when he was already in power. While he was still seeking the presidency he made a vow to the electorate he will pursue the transparent path the most evident proof of which is freedom of information.

If Aquino is just following the advice of an adviser, then he is ill-advised. If it is his personal position that the country does not need freedom of information, then he is 180 degrees opposite to his own position while he was still a candidate. He is therefore reneging on his campaign commitment.

The change of heart, I believe, only proves that Aquino is not immune to that malady most leaders fall into which is to become protective of the status quo instead of becoming a trailblazer. This just goes to show Aquino is not keen about what legacy he would leave the people when he steps down from power.

A leader not conscious about the kind of legacy he will be leaving behind is no leader. Leaders are there to make a mark. A leader who is not thinking of what lasting mark he should make for himself is a leader who’ll go down in the dustbin of history ignominiously.

Aquino is doing right with his battle against corruption notwithstanding the accusations that he is waging it selectively. Regardless of the view of the minority, Aquino is hailed for his apparent resolve to address the problem of corruption in government.

All his efforts in regard his administration’s battle against corruption, however, might just go the drain now that he has made clear his adamant position toward freedom of information.

The battle against corruption will never progress unless transparency is institutionalized. Institutionalizing transparency means enacting laws that’ll empower the ordinary folks’ access to government records. This is what a freedom of information law could give the citizenry that Aquino hates to be passed by Congress.

Is Aquino’s battle against corruption is for real or indeed just selective? With his refusal to certify the freedom of information bill as urgent for being important, for being necessary in the equation of stamping out corruption, Aquino seems to be confirming fears his anticorruption battle is indeed selective only.

Fact v. claim

The doctors aggrieved by the Bureau of Internal Revenue newspaper advertisement depicting them as tax cheats, that’s their claim, by the way, which is not what others think of about the ad, should not just cry foul over the controversial advertisement. They should arm themselves with the facts to support their claim of not being tax cheats.

Let us admit that there are doctors who are faithfully paying their taxes. They are those under the employ of an employer such as the government, hospitals or private companies. But this type of medical practitioners is paying their taxes not as doctors but as employees because their income taxes are withheld from source or by their employers.

We do not have any problem with this type of medical practitioners. But those doctors who are into private practice are the ones that the BIR is saying not to be paying their taxes, at least properly. And if ever they pay, they shortchange the government by not declaring the right income they earned.

When the BIR says that the latter type of medical practitioners is the one not paying taxes, it is saying it as a matter of fact. They have the records of all taxpayers and they also have the records of the actual number of medical practitioners in the country given them by the Professional Regulations Commission. I understand that out of the more or less 1.5 million professional practitioners, only about 400,000 are paying their taxes.

When the doctors say they are not tax cheats because they are paying their taxes faithfully, that is just a claim. Claims hold water only if backed up by facts. Sadly, the doctors have not presented the facts so far to prove their claim. So in this regard, the BIR’s fact remains not assailed by the self-serving claim of the doctors.

My unsolicited advice to the doctors, those who are in private practice most especially, is for them to assail the facts of the BIR with more superior facts. You cannot assail a fact with a mere claim of not being tax cheats.

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