02 May 2011
BENIGNO S. AQUINO III
President of the Philippines
Subject: Request for meeting on the Freedom of Information Bill
Dear Mr. President:
We are members of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a network of about 150 organizations and individuals from various social sectors and civil-society groups, which have long been campaigning for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
We count among our ranks public-interest groups; print, broadcast and online journalists; environmental-protection advocates; farmers and farmers’ support groups; women’s organizations; labor unions from the private and public sectors; migrant workers; businessmen; lawyers; academics; student and youth organizations, and concerned individuals.
Three times already since you were elected President nearly 12 months ago, we had written you letters of appeal so you may please support, endorse, and help assure the passage of the FOI Act.
On May 26, 2010 or two weeks after elections when it was clear that the people had vested you with firm and broad mandate to serve as President, we wrote to request you to lend a decisive voice to convince the House of Representatives of the 14th Congress to act on the bicameral conference report on the FOI bill.
The House of Representatives failed us supposedly because there was no quorum on their last session day, even as we counted and our media colleagues had documented the contrary. Suffice it to say that the House misled us. It was not only a matter of spurning our 14-year advocacy; more gravely, it was a matter of failing their constitutional duty to pass the FOI Act. This much is clear under the 1987 Constitution written and ratified under the watch of President Corazon Aquino, which fully guarantees the right of the people to access information and documents in the custody of government officials and agencies, as well as prescribes the state policies of transparency and accountability.
Then again on July 20, 2010 we wrote you to appeal for the inclusion of the FOI bill among the legislative measures on your priority list in the debut state-of-the-nation address that you were to deliver days later.
Finally on February 2, 2011, we wrote a third time to beseech you to enroll the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in your Priority Measures for consideration by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council or LEDAC.
Three times we have written and three times, too, we have failed to receive substantial positive feedback from you or your deputies regarding our appeal.
Please rest assured, Mr, President, that we continue to keep faith in your appreciation of the value of an FOI Act in promoting good governance, transparency, accountability, and responsive delivery of public services. These are precisely the bedrock principles – and promises – on which you have built your “Social Contract with the Filipino People,” and for which you have won the adulation, respect and vote of our people. We also understand full well that your administration needs and deserves adequate time to study the details of the bill and assess it against a number of concerns that you and some of your deputies have publicly raised.
At the same time, please understand, Mr. President, that absent positive developments, or even public statements, on how your administration intends and wishes to help enact the FOI Act – we are given no reason to remain hopeful. With all due respect, Mr. President, during your first 10 months in office the FOI bill has achieved no breakthroughs. And this is despite a long, congenial, and substantial meeting that we had months ago in Malacañan where the three Cabinet secretaries of your Communications Group assured us of their support for the FOI bill.
The first regular session of the 15th Congress is nearing its end, and very soon, the jockeying for positions for the 2013 elections will be upon us. Yet the FOI bill remains stalled in the respective committees on public information of the Senate and House of Representatives. Curiously, even the majority coalition in the House that is now led by your Liberal Party allies could not make the FOI bill move in the 15th Congress with as much resolve as they had demonstrated in the 14th Congress.
We believe that a key reason for the lack of progress on the FOI bill in Congress is the perceived lack of decisive support for it from the Executive branch, in particular, from the President. As you have risen from the ranks of our lawmakers, we have no doubt that you fully understand our concerns and apprehensions.
Pardon us, Mr. President, but we could not help but think that all too suddenly, save for a few consistent voices in Congress, the FOI bill has become an orphaned cause in government, a bill without fathers, mothers, friends, advocates, and champions under your administration.
We would like to perish this thought promptly and for good. We know that a far better and more joyful idea that should consume us is to believe that with you and under your leadership, we could still hope that very soon our nation will finally have an FOI law.
May we take this opportunity to request, with all due considerations for your very busy schedule, a meeting with Your Excellency for a delegation from the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition, at the soonest and most convenient time possible.
Perhaps you may at least give us a chance to discuss with you how the FOI bill can be refined to achieve a careful and reasonable balance between the people’s right to access information and the concerns that you may have, so that it may merit your support and consequently advanced effectively in the legislative process.
We will follow up our request for a meeting with you with your appropriate staff personnel or deputies.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
Very truly yours,
Right to Know. Right Now!