Afraid of FOI?
A couple of Congresses have passed, but the House of Representatives has yet to pass a freedom of information (FOI) bill. Despite the dire need for this piece of legislation and the strong clamor from the people, our so-called legislators refuse to enact a law that will give Filipinos unfettered access to information on things that affect them.
What prevents the “people’s” representatives from approving a much-clamored-for law? The Senate has done its part, thanks to the leadership and persistence of Sen. Grace Poe; but in the House, very few have manifested their strong desire for an FOI law which is supposed to facilitate the citizens’ exercise of their right to public information and ensure adherence by government
officials to the principle of public accountability.
At least, in the past two Congresses, there were a handful of FOI supporters, among them, Vice President Leni G. Robredo, then a neophyte legislator. But in the present Congress, it is discouraging to note that no one appears to be determined to have this important bill approved. Yes, even the so-called militant party-list representatives are reluctant to spearhead the proposed act’s deliberation.
Also, as I repeatedly pointed out in previous letters to the Inquirer, there were big opportunities for the measure—which is envisioned to discourage and prevent the “virus” of graft and corruption that has long plagued government bureaucracy—to be enacted. For example, former speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte Jr. led the House for so many years and he had, at his beck and call, the support of a supercoalition of proadministration representatives. However, he was lukewarm to the enactment of an FOI law.
In the preceding 15th Congress, the committee on public information was headed by a congressman who was very close to then President Gloria Arroyo—Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, who had the support of Belmonte and other Liberal Party bigwigs in the House. But he “dribbled” the FOI bill, to the consternation of well-meaning citizens. The bill did not even reach first base.
Sadly ironic, Belmonte and Evardone are both former newspapermen; as such, they are supposed to understand, appreciate and value the importance and necessity of a real FOI law. But in spite of their past roles as journalists, they only had deaf ears for the people who had long suffered from
every kind of shenanigans in public service.
To save the present FOI bill from the fate of the previous FOI bills in past Congresses, incumbent Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez should now lead the House into seriously considering this bill. Like Belmonte, he has the backing and support of a supermajority in the House, though composed mostly of turncoats and political butterflies. He can easily muster enough votes to approve a bill whose passage has long been awaited by the people who deserve the right to know the happenings in their government.
EUSEBIO S. SAN DIEGO, founder, Kaguro,
and former president, Quezon City
Public School Teachers Association
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