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Bantay FOI! Sulong FOI!

The push for the Freedom of Information (FOI) law has risen from the dead. This time, we hope, the law will be passed and live on for generations of Filipinos to invoke and use to enhance their rights and freedoms.

In June last year, during the dying days of the Arroyo administration, the FOI act (FOIA) was killed in Congress at the 11th hour when all that was needed was just one more nudge and two minutes. What a dismal, shameful day it was.

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Those in the Senate (where it had been passed) and Congress who valiantly rallied for it will have their eternal reward. But those who deliberately tried to kill it will roast in the darkness. When Rep. Benny Abante and other authors of the bill were about to move for its ratification, they were literally silenced. The microphones were turned off.

Congress had procrastinated till the days ran out, and when D-Day came, Congress invoked lack of quorum when, in fact, reports said there was one. Some members absented themselves or loitered around somewhere so as not to be counted. There was a clear intention to kill the FOIA so that we would remain in darkness. For FOI advocates it was back to the salt mines.

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With an FOI law, many things we ought to know that are hidden could be easily laid bare. Filipino citizens, journalists especially, could demand easy access to information. Those who perennially hide their shady deeds might be forced to give up old practices and start living honorable lives. We will stand tall and proudly tell some of our Asian neighbors that like them, we have this empowering law.

An FOI law would give us the hows of our right to information as enshrined in the Constitution. This right is already etched in stone. We just need the mechanics on how to exercise that right. But there are those who would stand in the way.

And so two days ago, Bantay FOI! Sulong FOI! was launched to coincide with the start of the second regular session of the 15th Congress. Also launched was the online network and data base which will serve as campaign platform. The campaign is led by the Institute for Freedom of Information (i-FOI), a partnership program of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the Action for Economic Reforms (AER).

Bantay FOI! Sulong FOI is, first, a relentless push for the passage of the long-awaited FOI law. Second, it involves close monitoring by citizens and civil society groups of how President Aquino and the leaders of Congress will respond to the people’s clamor for an FOI law. Third, it underpins the multiple, parallel actions and initiatives in order to exact greater transparency and responsive public service from all government agencies.

Why FOI? Here are excerpts from from Bantay FOI! Sulong FOI! (full text at http://ifoi.phil):

“Section 7 of our Bill of Rights of the Constitution has been upheld by the Supreme Court to be enforceable even without an implementing law. However, in practice, many government agencies and officials take only token action on citizens’ requests for information and documents. All too often, they have resorted to routine rebuffs of the people’s right to information, absent the necessary substantive and procedural details that only Congress can provide. Similarly, the state policy of full disclosure of all transactions involving public interest under Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution, requires an enabling mechanism.

“Now more than ever, with the Aquino administration committing to uphold transparency and good governance in all its affairs, we need an FOI law. By the precept ‘Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,’ President Aquino has built his government. By the precept ‘Kung walang FOI, dadami ang corrupt, dadami ang mahirap,’ we now scale up our campaign.

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“Now more than ever, we need an FOI law: To provide uniform and definite procedures for dealing with requests for information. To clearly define exceptions. To secure for us effective remedies in cases of denial of access. To require the disclosure of important government transactions without need of request. To impose criminal and administrative sanctions for violation of our right to information.

“Now more than ever, we need an FOI law to institutionalize transparency as the mandatory norm, rather than a discretionary matter, for all elective and appointive officials, across all branches of government….

“To this day, with only a week to go before Mr. Aquino’s second State-of-the-Nation Address, this redrafted bill has not been discussed with, or approved by, the President. According to Cabinet members, the FOI bill might not merit special mention in the Sona…

“Interestingly, the Aquino administration has taken a significant role in a global initiative for greater government transparency. It sits in the steering committee of the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral, eight-country initiative launched by US President Barack Obama ‘to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance’…

“Malacañang must understand: Its desire to assume an honored place in the world stage as one of the leading lights of transparency in the world will not fly unless it commits to the immediate passage of the FOI Act in the Philippines…

“Over the last 14 months, the FOI advocates have waited, and engaged Malacañang in open and honest dialogue. Whatever action the President takes on its draft FOI bill, nothing should stop our senators and congressmen from acting on the FOI bills now pending before the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

Who will try to crush, mangle and kill the FOIA? We will be watching.

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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TAGS: Aquino administraion, arroyo administration, congress, Freedom of Information (FOI)
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