On September 23, 2010 the Senate of the Philippines took its first steps toward live streaming Senate proceedings. At a public hearing by the Senate Committee on Rules, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, the Upper House discussed Senate Resolution No. 53 calling for “the live streaming of Senate proceedings in the plenary as well as hearings and meetings of the Senate committees to provide accurate information in real time to the public.”
In filing Resolution No. 53, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, the measure’s principal author, cited the need for “greater informed participation” among fellow legislators and the public. He said in a statement dated August 16, 2010, “This will provide the public access to the inner workings of the legislative branch without editing or commentary, so that nothing will be misinterpreted, as they will be getting accurate information in real time.”
At the beginning of the public hearing, Pangilinan spoke of the need to engage and involve Filipinos from all over the country and around the world, who might be interested in the Senate debates but who might not have the means or the time to watch the proceedings live in Manila. He also spoke of making such proceedings as the budget hearings more accessible to the public, as such activities are covered by mainstream media only in a limited capacity.
“Ang nakikita lamang nila ang lumalabas sa TV at napapakinggan nila sa radyo, ngunit hindi iyon ang kabuuan ng ating ginagawa sa Senado, at sa pamamagitan ng live streaming ay mas lalo nilang mauunawaan na hindi pala totoo na puro lang hearing na wala namang nangyayari. (What the people only know about are what they see on TV and hear on the radio, but that is not all that we do at the Senate. Through live streaming, more people will see that it’s not true that all we do is sit in hearings but nothing comes out of this.)”
“The first step… to involvement is being informed,” Pangilinan added. “I’d like to think that if more of our people are informed about what’s going on in the Senate and in Congress, they would be more interested in working with government. That would do us well in terms of getting people to participate… in helping shape our communities and helping shape our nation.”
That pronouncement supporting Resolution No. 53, made exactly 38 years after the promulgation of the now-infamous Proclamation No. 1081 of then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos, shows how the country has moved light years away from being a society shrouded in secrecy to being a society supporting full disclosure. From censorship and suppression, we now have freedom of expression and the right to organize and participate in public life. From hiding behind anonymity and running from government forces, citizens can now engage them head-on–if not in the streets or in parliament, then at least on cyberspace, through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. From knowing nothing at all and being made to guess government’s actions and the implications and consequences of these, we now have a daily deluge of information and analysis that’s enough to make us drown in details.
While there is still much to be desired in terms of making government more transparent on all levels (such as enacting our very own Freedom of Information Act), supporting the proposal to live stream Senate proceedings is a positive “baby step” (words used by Senator Pangilinan) that will pressure both government and citizens to be more informed, more involved, and more responsive in governance. After all, this country can only run as well as we allow our leaders to lead and make the right decisions.
So imagine how much better our society would look like if Resolution No. 53 were actually carried out and if, at some point in the near future, a Freedom of Information Act would be enacted and implemented properly. We would have citizens that will know exactly what their leaders are doing, and leaders that can be held more accountable for their actions. We will know more about the forces (and the funders) surrounding our elected officials, and we can make better-informed decisions about the people to whom we entrust the government’s coffers. We will know what is being spent on and why (we hope), and there will be less opportunities for corruption and deceit. (Either that, or the crooks have to be smarter and more technologically advanced than the rest of us.) We will know who sleeps on the job, who shows up only for the occasional photo op and grandstanding, and who the silent but steady worker is. We will be able to wrest a little bit more control from the Powers That Be and bring a little more power back into the people’s hands.
Now, it does sound a bit too good to be true, doesn’t it? We have to remind ourselves, lest we get too excited too early on in the game, that what we have here are just “baby steps” for now. We still have a bit more to go before the proposal is carried, and still a number of debates, discussions, and excuses to hear out in regard to the proposal’s actual implementation. Let’s watch and see if our elected officials will actually be man (or woman) enough to make the big leap forward.
In the meantime, let’s keep on making noise for our right to know. After all, it’s been almost 40 years since the imposition of Martial Law, and we should show ourselves that with the passing of the years and the introduction of enabling technology comes the maturity to know what to do and the political will to make it happen.
Disclosure and disclaimer: Niña Terol-Zialcita heads the New Media Unit for the Office of Senator Francis Pangilinan. While her involvement in pushing for Resolution No. 53 is part of her job, this is an independently published opinion piece and has not in any way been sanctioned by the Office of Senator Pangilinan..