Sen. Bam Aquino Calls for Citizens to Defend Truth

Senator Bam Aquino made an impassioned plea for greater transparency across the Philippine government and Duterte administration. “There is a lot of disinformation, misinformation, and fake news out there which seeks to twist the truth in any way. We have to defend the right information and the truth.”

His remarks came at the start of Transparency 5.0: From Theory to Action, the 5th annual public forum on good governance, transparency, and accountability co-sponsored by Asia Society Philippines and the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov). The half-day conference held at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) focused on harnessing modern mediums to effect positive change at a time when the roles and relationships of government, media, and citizens are evolving in an increasingly open society.

With the Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) and the recent launch of the FOI website, the onus is upon the Philippine government to act more transparently. But in light of recent news events and developments, Senator Aquino believed that everyone has role to play going beyond calling for mere transparency.

“These days we have the power of information. We need to harness it for good governance and for public engagement – to get more people involved in the way that the taxpayers’ money is spent, in the way our government runs the country. We need to get people involved – not just put out information, but actively engaged in the citizenry.”

“We are surely living in a time of dramatic change and we must remain steadfast with our values and aware of responsibilities as citizens,” said Suyin Liu Lee, Executive Director of Asia Society Philippines. “Calls for greater transparency and accountability are manifesting itself in countries around the world, not just in the Philippines, and we believe there is a dynamic transformation occurring across our world, where citizens can push the envelope of civil discourse in new and more historic ways than ever before.”

“What we need are champions in government, in traditional media, in new media, in politics, in business, who will say: We will not stand for misinformation; we will push for transparency, and we will do our best to make sure information is used for the good of the country,” concluded Senator Aquino.

The three panels that followed sought to discuss the new media landscape through three different lenses: those of government, media, and civil society.

The first panel on Open Government was moderated by BusinessWorld Editor-in-Chief Roby Alampay, and featured Director of De La Salle University’s Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance Francisco Magno, Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan, and ICT Director for the Department of Budget & Management Asec. Lilia Guillermo. “We would like FOI to be personal, not limited to just the media or the academe. In the U.S., for example, data is being used by families to determine where to live—which areas have high crime rates, which ones have good schools? Freedom of Information puts everyone on equal footing,” said Ablan.

The second panel centered on the role and impact of media. The discussion was moderated by Bloomberg TV Executive Producer Owen Franks, who asked insightful and provocative questions to a panel that included Howie Severino of GMA, Regina Reyes of ABS-CBN, and President and CEO of the Philippine Stock Exchange Hans Sicat.

One of Frank’s most engaging and controversial questions was about striking a balance between two major goals of media organizations: building an audience and protecting its integrity, to which ABS-CBN’s Reyes replied: “One major differentiation from us and from any other news source that could report any story is verification. Whether we are on free TV or radio, we are obligated to be truthful. It is the one important asset legitimate media never lost.”

The third discussion focused on how citizens could channel the modern era’s near unlimited access to information into actual social good. Rappler’s Managing Editor, Glenda Gloria facilitated the discussion among Founder and Executive Director of Rock Ed Philippines Gang Badoy Capati, Editor-in-Chief John Nery, and Bantay.PH Co-founder Happy Ferraren.

The event also featured keynote speeches from public affairs consultant and commentator Karim Raslan, who spoke about the regional implications of an open society, and Facebook Head of Public Policy for the Asia Pacific Elizabeth Hernandez, who talked about Facebook’s initiatives to better connect people.

The entire forum can be viewed on the @AsiaSocietyPHTF Facebook page. This forum was made possible through its sponsor, Metro Pacific Investments Corporation, and with the support of GMA Network Inc., and the Asian Institute of Management. Media partners include ABS-CBN News Channel, BusinessWorld, CNN Philippines, DZUP 1602, Eagle Broadcasting Corporation, Malaya Business Insight, Manila Bulletin, and Rappler.