FOI, once more, with feeling!
There is still time for Congress to enact into law the much clamored-for and long-awaited freedom of information (FOI) bill, if Malacañang and the leadership of the House of Representatives will only give it the much-needed push.
Congress will resume its session on Jan. 19 and adjourn on Feb. 6, in time for the start of the election campaign. With Congress having just around 10 days remaining for legislative work, it is highly necessary and imperative that President Aquino certify the FOI bill as urgent; otherwise, it will end up in the dustbin of unapproved legislative measures.
The Senate has passed its version of the bill; it’s now for the House to favorably act on it with dispatch. No more “dribbling,” please! Prior to the 16th Congress, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. promised that the bill will hurdle the House. But he and the then chair of the committee on public information took their own sweet time to delay its passage. At the start of the 16th Congress, he vowed again (ho hum) that we would soon have an FOI act. True to form, he broke his promise anew—to our people’s disappointment.
Camarines Sur Rep. Leni G. Robredo resuscitated our hope when she announced she would convince President Aquino to certify to the urgency of the FOI bill. The President should—if he really wants his “daang matuwid” (straight path) crusade to succeed. An FOI law means transparency and accountability in government, which are needed in anticorruption efforts. Besides, he promised during the 2010 election campaign that an FOI law will be one of the top priorities of his presidency.
President Aquino and Speaker Belmonte should be reminded that the United States has long enacted its Freedom of Information Act, often referred to as “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.” It was passed by the 89th US Congress 50 years ago and signed into law by then President Lyndon Johnson on July 4, 1966. Likewise, new and smaller nations—compared to the Philippines—have long been implementing their respective versions of FOI.
Why no FOI bill in the Philippines, a country known for its adherence to rights and freedoms inherent in a democracy? So, Mr. President, heed the clamor of the people. Give the FOI bill a strong push. An FOI law can still be enacted.
Mr. Speaker, the House must act decisively and fast to approve this measure before the 16th Congress passes into history.
The Filipino citizens direly need and want the “right to know, right now!”—to borrow the name of the coalition of 31 organizations justly demanding FOI and serving as the collective voice of the well-meaning sectors of the Philippine society.
The FOI law will be a lasting legacy that the Aquino administration and the 16th Congress can bequeath to the country and its people! Why miss a golden opportunity?
—EUSEBIO S. SAN DIEGO, founder, Kaguro, and former president, Quezon City Public School Teachers Association
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