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FOI advocates to admin: Speed up FOI bill passage | CMFR

FOI advocates to admin: Speed up FOI bill passage

Freedom of information (FOI) advocates are asking President Benigno Aquino III and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to prioritize the bill and pass it within the year. In a Town Hall July 14 meeting and sign-on activity organized by the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition (R2KRN) at the University of the Philippines Bahay ng Alumni (Alumni House), civil society and government leaders discussed the different issues surrounding the bill and emphasized its importance in “achieving full democracy.”

The panelists included Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, Rep. Emmeline Aglipay of DIWA partylist, Rep. Leah Paquiz of Ang NARS partylist, Rep. Walden Bello of AKBAYAN partylist, Rep. Gus Tambunting of Paranaque 2nd district, Ramon del Rosario, chairperson of the Makati Business Club, and Jerry Rivera, president of the Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association (PALEA).

Malacañang has repeatedly said that it supports the bill, but according to Bello, there is still “no evident, tangible, empirical proof” that they do.

On March 10, the Senate approved the bill on third and final reading. Poe said the pork barrel scam prompted them to pass the measure. “The people in the Senate wanted to prove themselves, that we can do something productive that is actually of good use to the public.”

As for the House of Representatives, Rep. Jorge Almonte, chairperson of the House committee on public information, said he is “80 percent sure” that the FOI bill will be passed in the 16th Congress. In a taped interview shown during the Town Hall meeting, Almonte said “it will not be easy sailing” but he is “confident” of the bill’s passage.

In the meeting, Poe explained the importance of FOI on education, government procurement, and people empowerment. She said FOI issues should be discussed in such a way that people will be able to relate it to their daily life and understand how they can use it to participate in governance.

Rivera echoed Poe’s comment, saying that some people, especially workers, can’t connect the FOI issue to such struggles as what they are going to eat at the end of the day.

The business community also supports the measure. Del Rosario said good governance is a key to economic growth. He emphasized the importance of institutionalizing the “culture of accountability and transparency so that the next administrations will have no choice but to pursue this as well.”

The inclusion of a right of reply (ROR) provision in the FOI bill was also discussed. Representatives Bello, Aglipay, and Paquiz said they are not in favor of the measure. Both Bello and Aglipay said FOI and ROR do not address the same issues.

Online campaign

Change.org, a social change platform, launched a petition in May to gather signatures that they will present to Aquino and Belmonte before the President’s State of the Nation Address in July. As of this writing, over 10,000 people have signed the petition.

There were also simultaneous sign-on activities in different parts of the country including Davao, Cebu, Bacolod, Cavite, and Surigao del Sur and in other schools including the Ateneo de Manila University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and Miriam College. Mobile teams of workers were also sent to Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations for an offline sign-on.

Lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan, co-convenor of the R2KRN Coalition said the Town Hall meeting and sign-on gave an opportunity for FOI leaders to educate citizens about the bill. He said the sign-on helped netizens express their thoughts on how the bill can affect their lives. Malaluan added the coalition will continue to campaign for the passage of the bill.

The Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility is a member of the R2KRN Coalition.

R2KRN! Coalition Statement:
Pass the People’s FOI Bill now!

IN EXACTLY 24 months, the Aquino Administration that came to power on a “Social Contract with the Filipino People” will come to a close. Its trademark shibboleth: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Its path to governance: Daang Matuwid.
Today, we hear less and less of official statements peppered with the same prose now. And yet, as the Aquino administration enters its twilight years, the Filipino people’s disaffection with unabated corruption in high places and jobless growth continues to rise.

In recent weeks, plunder and graft cases have been filed against some senators and congressmen mostly associated with the political opposition, for alleged misuse and abuse of pork barrel monies. A few other lawmakers allied with the Administration had also been implicated but the investigators have shown much less vigor and spunkin running after them.
What is wrong with this story? A big missing link — a Freedom Information Act that will affirm with absolute certitude that the long arm of the law will snare allthe crooks,whether foes or friends of the Administration.

The cases are now unfolding on both legal and political fronts. It is most worrisome that because the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow in the country, their prosecution will stretch beyond the life of the Aquino Administration and past the next national and local elections.

How the political interests of the accused and the accusers would collide or converge in May 2016, the paramount nonpartisan interest that must be favored is the Filipino people’s right to know, access information, and hold accountable in law and in the next elections those who amassed our hard-earned taxes for private gain.

At its birth, the Aquino Administration pledged to crack a simple equation – curb corruption to curb poverty. To most everyone it was clear that an FOI law could have served as fount and pivot of its reform agenda.

An FOI law will define clear procedures andreasonable limits on citizen requests for information and documents vested with public interest and in the custody of public officials and agencies.

And this is the essence of an FOI law – a rights-based permanent framework that is far more superior to the Administration’s voluntary disclosure of some public finance documents, or only those that it decides to post online.
About 100 countries across the world have enacted FOI laws. They have demonstrated how FOI serves as a bedrock and enabler of most other rights of people to education, health, livelihood, property, security, and even life and happiness.

In the Philippines, a multitude of citizens and sectors — students, workers, informal settlers, professionals, academics, businessmen, church people, journalists, bloggers, donors, and civil society organizations – have declared their explicit and firm stand in favor of the passage of the FOI law.

The online and onsite petition on www.change.org/TayoNaParaSaFOIfor President Aquino and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to finally act decisively on its passage has drawn about 10,000 signatories, and counting.
FOI is a legislation that is 27 years overdue. The 1987 Constitution guarantees the people’s right to access information. It enshrines transparency as a state policy. It has obliged the members of Congress to pass an FOI law that will complement and effectively enforce both.

But five presidents and nine Congresses hence, the FOI bill remains an elusive reform measure. It baffles most everyone why such an important legislation has languished for more years under an Administration that has sworn to take the path of “Daang Matuwid”.

To be sure, the Aquino Administration commands a plurality of votes in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It has shown it could muster the numbers for reform bills certified by the President. The Sin Tax Law and the Responsible Parenthood Act are two examples. There is no question that it if wants to, it could do the same for FOI.
Under the steady leadership of Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Committee on Public Information, the Senate passed its version of the bill on third and final reading in record time last March yet. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the chair of the Committee on Public Information, Rep. Jorge Almonte, has pledged to see the counterpart bill move past his committee at least, before the year is over.

The next move, the final, decisive push for the FOI Act, is for the President and Speaker Belmonteto make.

Beyond partisan political interests, leaders and citizens must together take the path of Daang Matuwid, a road to progress basking in the sunshine of Freedom of Information, to curb corruption and poverty.
Pass the People’s FOI bill now.