Perverse transparency

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By Raymond Palatino Promoting transparency is the preferred technique of politicians and their apologists today. If an official wants to be politically correct, he must be optically correct as well. Behold the rise of politico-techies! Before, a politician must learn how to hold a smiling baby while posing before the cameras. Today, he must instantly tweet the incident. Governance requires the use of sweet-sounding words to deceive the public. The chosen vocabulary is usually related to the popular struggles of the voting citizens. A politician must profess to be a champion of the poor, labor, women, children, and indigenous peoples. He must promise to advance education, health, peace, environment, and of course democracy. Meanwhile, a reformist openly advocates women and gender rights. But the latest addition to the propaganda arsenal of politicians is the enthusiastic promotion of the information and transparency craze. The administration of Noynoy Aquino seems to be battle-ready in the ?information warfare?. It has three communication experts and several underlings whose daily mission is to bombard the public with bits and bytes of trivial and even contradictory information. The president?s official speeches, statements, and directives are instantly uploaded in the Web. Budget materials are posted online. Every government agency claims to have a social media campaign. What we have is a reverse Wikileaks; it?s the state which leaks official documents to the public. Convinced that it adheres to the minimum principles of transparency, the Aquino government has willingly aligned itself with the US-backed Open Government Partnership. But the Aquino government is neither open nor transparent. It couldn?t even fully support the Freedom of Information bill. For several months, its decepticon spokespersons were pushing for freedom of information with responsibility. Its FOI version which was finally presented to Congress last week is loaded with provisions that would prevent the people from accessing vital government documents. For example, the records of minutes during policy formulation or decision making by the president can?t be disclosed. Furthermore, the president can easily classify all his meetings as executive sessions to hide the illegal and immoral transactions in the Palace. It seems we have the right to demand the release or publication of ALL government documents as long as the record keepers allow it. We have the privilege to review, analyze, and scrutinize online state documents but we must be content if the declassified materials will turn out to be nothing more but voluminous files of dull statistics, staffing summary reports, scanned news clippings, and archaic laws. We can inquire about safe numbers like cash transfer disbursements, crop losses, and Corona?s bank accounts but the extent of the Cojuangco family?s business transactions in the Noynoying era is a well-guarded state secret. The public can go gaga over agency budget reports which are now conveniently downloadable in the internet but it is forbidden to touch anything that politicians are keeping in their office and home vaults. The skeletons in the closet must remain hidden. That we have a secretive state is a given fact even if the current supremo is a self-proclaimed proponent of open governance. But what makes the Aquino administration more sinister than its predecessor is its false, shameful, but believable assertion that it hides nothing from the public because all government activities are instantly reported in the websites and social networks. What?s the modus operandi? The tactic was perfected by the previous government and it has been readily adopted by the Yellow Mafia. Here?s how it works: Summoned by the UN a few years ago to give a briefing on the human rights situation in the Philippines, former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita submitted large stacks of documentary evidence during the assembly as proof of the government?s compliance with international human rights agreements. We learned later that the files were merely copies of the 1987 Constitution and several laws on human rights protection. In short, distract the interested parties by drowning them with too much information of little value. Translated into governance, it involves the sophisticated use of new communication tools to overwhelm and confuse the public with superfluous information. Data production, processing, and distribution are hailed as indicators of change and good governance. Worse, as Susan Sontag warned earlier, ?the freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself.? The innovation of the Aquino regime is its wise appropriation of the language of feel-good reformism in the age of new technologies. A president answering facebook comments. A government most willing and ready to engage citizens in twitter conversations. Online ranting and debate as unmistakable components of democratic governance. But what?s wrong with information overload and communication fanatics? Paul Virilio reminded us that when there is over-communication, the value of the word is lost. He added that ?the truth of the facts is censured by over-information.? We become ?fascinated victims? of disinformation. Jean Baudrillard pointed out that ?there is something obscene about the instant replication of an event, act or speech?for some degree of delay, pause or suspense is essential to thought and speech.? He noted that ?we are no longer fighting the spectre of alienation, but that of ultra reality.? We are no longer seeing or discovering the truth; we are merely visually absorbing the scenes in front of our computer screens. The grand deception is to equate conversation, especially online conversations, with political participation and empowerment. We are hypnotized by real-time exchanges which prevent us from immediately recognizing that conversations must end at one point so that we can pursue our original task of struggling for a new political order. To prioritize conversation/communication over political action is to fall into the trap of modern dictators who want to redirect the energies of netizens into virtual engagements. As politicians lure us into their inner circle of social networks, their other aim is to weaken our political capabilities in the offline world. (?The system expelling us, even as it integrates us?). They interact with us so that we may forget the essential issues and reduce politics into 140 characters. Beware of politicians who blindly worship the power of new media. Beware of overnight IT experts who equate transparency with the online posting of government documents. Transparency is too precious to be left in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians. It?s a powerful weapon of the people which needs to be rescued from the distorted usage of conservative and reactionary ideologues. The author is a member of the House of Representatives representing Kabataan Partylist]]>

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