IN REMAINING for so long without a right to information law, the Philippines is failing to respect its role, as a Steering Committee member of the Open Government Partnership, to show leadership by example for OGP in terms of domestic commitments. This was the main message of more than seventy organizations that work internationally and in countries all over the world, in a letter sent yesterday to President Aquino through Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad and Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office.
The OGP is a multilateral initiative led by the United States that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. The Philippines was one of the eight countries that composed the original Steering Committee members of OGP, together with the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. When the OGP was formally launched in September 2011, the Philippines and Brazil were the only two Steering Committee members without an FOI law. However, Brazil passed its FOI law shortly thereafter, leaving the Philippines as the only original Steering Committee member that does not have an FOI law.
As member of the OGP Steering Committee, “it is incumbent on the Philippines to adopt right to information legislation”, the international groups said in the letter.
“One of the core commitments of the OGP, set out in the OGP’s Declaration of Principles, is to increase the availability of information about governmental activities. As the Declaration states, governments collect and hold information on behalf of people, and citizens have a right to seek information about governmental activities. This clearly requires the adoption of right to information legislation”, the groups explained.
Test of Political Will
The international call joins the continuing national demand for the passage of the FOI law in the Philippines.
Last week, more than eighty organizations from different sectors also wrote the President asking that he include the immediate passage of the FOI law among the legislative priorities that he will identify in his SONA on Monday.
In a press conference held Friday (20 July), the coalition noted that the President’s remaining concerns have already been addressed in amendments proposed by his study group. The coalition added that the fears of abuse of FOI by citizens and media is likewise addressed by a provision introduced in the Senate Committee report addressing instances of abuse in the exercise of rights under the proposed FOI law.
“With the government concerns already addressed, the passage of the FOI law is now a matter of political will on the part of the President and the leaders and members of Congress”, Atty. Nepo Malaluan, co-convenor of the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition said during the press conference. “The challenge to President Aquino’s program of daang matuwid is how to institutionalize and make it uniformly observed at all levels of government, so that it becomes irreversible even beyond his term. Passing the FOI law now will strongly reinforce public confidence that the President is keeping true to his mandate of change and to his marching orders to transform our government,” Malaluan added.
Campaign to Intensify in the Coming Months
As the window for passing the FOI fast closes, the coalition committed to intensify the campaign and get ordinary citizens actively involved.
The coalition is readying mass campaigning initiatives through school and community symposiums in Metro Manila and the regions. It added that it would use text and online platforms to allow ordinary citizens to voice their support and demand for FOI. The coalition has started a text line: <I support FOI> <Name> <Age> <City> to 0919-FOI-5501 (0919 364 5501). The text line already receives a growing number of texters across the country. The text line will soon be merged with an online FOI support registration at http://www.ifoi.ph.
There is also an on-going international FOI online petition at http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Pass_the_Philippine_Freedom_of_Information_FOI_Act_Now/?tta that is generating rapidly multiplying support.
Image via dpchair.blogspot.com