The latest executive order from the only (putative) president so far who’s succeeded in making Joseph Estrada and even Ferdinand Marcos look good establishes a national security clearance for government personnel with access to classified information. EO 608 was signed last Friday, April 20.

That was the same date on which the OFW group Migrante International released a request from Malacanang’s Office of External Affairs Special Concerns Group for funds to finance a project to cut the votes of anti-regime party list groups, and to boost those of Palace-sponsored ones.

The request, supposedly signed by one Marcelo Farinas II and addressed to a “special assistant to the President,” included a list of four pro-regime party list groups (Agbiag, Babae Ka, Lypad, and Kalahi) for funding.

Farinas has denied writing the request, as of course anyone with half a brain would. After all, if he did write it he would not only be in violation of several laws, among them that which bans government employees from electioneering, but also of the most elementary rules of fairness and common decency, as well as of the spirit and letter of the Party List Act.

That Act, Commission on Elections issuances, and the Constitutional provision that authorizes the party list elections, are meant to allow the representation in the House of Representatives of marginalized sectors, which of course don’t include Palace bureaucrats and the various dregs of society they’ve dug up from under a rock so they can form a party-list bloc that would oppose any attempt to impeach Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Migrante International’s release of the document came on the heels of persistent reports that not only is the Arroyo regime organizing and funding certain party list groups, some crooks resident in the lower echelons of the government and their cohorts have also been peddling party-list accreditations and assurances of victory this May for amounts ranging from P100,000 to P10 million. The usual bright boys and girls apparently thought that while helping their boss hold on to power by, among other means, reducing the number of anti-regime party list groups in the House, they could also help themselves.

But this is the kind of public information the regime can do without. Usually leaked to the media and other groups by bureaucrats stricken by pangs of conscience, documents like this would qualify as “confidential,” “classified,” or even “secret,” they being crucial to the main and sole purpose of the current regime (survival and dominance).

The EO is of course cloaked in the usual national security terms—a sure sign that it’s up to no good. It would establish a system in which government personnel with access to classified information would be subject to a two-stage security clearance process. Government agencies will be required to conduct pre-approved background checks on all personnel who have access to classified information. If the employee passes this stage, he or she will be issued an interim security clearance. But final approval of the clearance for personnel with access to documents classified as “secret” or above will rest on National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez.

The EO wording underlines the dominance of a siege mentality appropriate to a regime that can’t trust its own citizens because it has lost the support of a stunning 60 to 70 percent of the population, and whose candidates are likely to be trounced at both the Senate and local levels in the May elections—if the elections are fair and honest.

“Government,” it declares, “is always at constant risk of being infiltrated by a group or individual for a purpose that is inimical to national interest. These groups/individuals rely on infiltrating and/or developing contacts within the bureaucracy to be their source of intelligence and other relevant information, particularly on classified or sensitive information and materials in order to accomplish their unlawful objectives.”

Given this assumption, one can only conclude that the background checks on employees will include looking into their family backgrounds as well as who they associate with, a process that will inevitably lead to the creation of dossiers on those employees found to have relatives or friends in, say, opposition parties, or even NGOs critical of government. And, what, by the way, would qualify as “unlawful objectives”?

Because the EO covers ALL government agencies, it would also make Congressional hearings even more problematic than they are now, since the documents such hearings may want to access could very easily be classified “secret,” and the person responsible for them barred from releasing them.

The EO could have an even more urgent impact on the public’s need to know. Access to official information by both the public and the media, which the Constitution and two executive orders (one by Corazon Aquino and another by Fidel Ramos) guarantee, but which the Arroyo regime has made more and more difficult, would become even more problematic, as bureaucrats err on the side of caution by withholding information rather than risk being penalized. Under these circumstances, covering up illegal transactions and the usual forms of corruption would be even easier.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, anticipating precisely such observations, asked the opposition to bring the matter to “the proper court.” That has been the regime approach since it realized that what it’s trying to do to this country is most of the time illegal, not to mention unconstitutional. Its asking people to sue if they have objections is based on its own cynical sense that while it may be in violation of the law, it can rely on a slow, inefficient and partial justice system to allow it to do what it wants in the meantime.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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