Pooled editorial on freedom of information act

POOLED EDITORIAL ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
(in Filipino and English)

Isulong, Isabatas ang FOI Ngayon!
Taong 1986 tinuldukan ng EDSA People Power Revolt ang 21 taon ng pamahalaang madilim at masikreto, at iniluklok ang pamahalaang maliwanag at bukas. Ang rehimen ni Ferdinand E. Marcos ay nagwakas, at nagsimula ang reform government ng democracy icon na si Corazon C. Aquino.

Sumunod na taon, inilatag ng 1987 Constitution na patakaran ng estado ang transparency at accountability para sa lahat ng kawani at opisyal ng gobyerno, at ang full public disclosure ng impormasyon na apektado ang interes ng mga mamamayan. Itinakda ng Saligang-Batas na karapatan natin na malaman at makaalam ukol sa lahat ng polisiya, proyekto, at programa ng gobyerno na gamit ang pondong bayan.

Ngayon ay 2012 na, dalawampu’t anim na taon makalipas ang EDSA. Ngayon ay masiglang tinatamasa natin ang ating karapatang na malayang magpahayag, ang press freedom, at ang freedom of assembly kung tayo ay may lehitimong mga hinaing laban sa gobyerno.

Ngunit isa pang karapatan natin na ginagarantiya rin ng Konstitusyon – ang Freedom of Information — hanggang sa ngayon, nasasadlak sa mabagal na galaw ng Kongreso, nabubulid sa nakalilitong “concerns” daw ng Executive agencies, at patuloy na kinukutya ng mga mahihigpit na administrative guidelines ng Hudikatura, House of Representatives, at maging ng Office of the Ombudsman.

Ang Freedom of Information Act na matagal nang pangako ng Konstitusyon hanggang sa ngayon, nananatiling pangako lamang. Mula nuong 12th Congress hanggang sa kasalukukyang 15th Congress, at sa kabila ng dose-dosenang panukalang batas na isinumiteng pauli-ulit, tila palagi na lang na tayo ay nasa square one, o marching in place lang, pagdating sa FOI Act.

Ang pangalawang Administrasyong Aquino ni Pangulong Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, iniluklok nuong June 2010 at nagpahayag ng malalaking adhikain: Lahat tayo, mamamayan at taong gobyerno, tumahak sa daang matuwid, iwaksi ang korapsyon, at wakasan ang kahirapan.

Tila kakambal nga ng mga panawagang ito ng Administrasyong Aquino ang pagsulong at pagsasabatas ng FOI Act. Pero lagpas dalawang taon na sa poder, hindi pa rin nagagawa ng Administrasyong Aquino at ng majority coalition sa ilalim ng kanyang Liberal Party ang kanilang tungkulin sa atin.

Sa mga pahayag ng mga opisyal at mambabatas na panig sa Administrasyon, ang matamlay nilang pagsulong ng FOI Act ay nauugat raw sa ilang dahilan: Una, ang ilang ahensiya ng gobyerno ay transparent na naman daw, at inilalabas na nila sa Internet ang ilang budget at public finance documents; Ikalawa, ang FOI Act daw ay isyung pang-middle class at pang-media lang; at Ikatlo, baka raw hindi naman makakuha ng kailangang boto ang FOI Act sa Kongreso, at dahil nalalapit na ang eleksyon sa Mayo 2013, baka mahati pa nito kaysa mapag-isa ang mga political parties.

Ang paglalagak sa Internet ng mga public documents ay kalahati lang sa transparency equation na ginagarantiya ng FOI Act. Ang mas matimbang na kalahati, ang paagsasapubliko ng gobyerno ng mga dokumento on request at on demand ng mga mamayan, na ayon naman sa ating right to information.

Kailangan at dapat nating malaman kung paano ginagamit ng mga taong gobyerno ang kanilang kapangyarihan, kung paano nila ginagastos ang pondong bayan, kung anong mga kontrata at kasunduan ang pinipirmahan nila sa ngalan nating lahat, at kung anong mga isyu at polisiya ang kanilang tinatalakay upang tayo’y makalahok sa pagdedesisyon.

Kailangan at dapat nating malaman ang mga programa ng gobyerno na serbisyong bayan, at kung paano natin makukuha ang mga dokumento sa dagliang panahon upang masiguro ang ating mga pangunahing pangagailangan.

Walang duda, ang Freedom of Information pinakabatayan, pinakamahalaga at tanging pundasyon ng lahat ng ating karapatan – maging sa edukasyon, kabuhayan, kaligtasan, ari-arian, at maging ang buhay natin.

Pananggalang natin ang Freedom of Information laban sa abusadong gobyerno. Kapangyarihan natin ang Freedom of Information para mapanatiling bukas, tapat, at responsable ang ating gobyerno.

Kahit man malinaw at garantisado ng Konstitusyon ang ating right to information, kailangan ng isang batas na maglilinaw kung paano ito maipasusunod sa lahat ng ahensiyang gobyerno. Dalawampu’t anim na taon at limang president na mula 1986, pangako na tila napako na ang FOI.

Sa mahabang panahong nakalipas, ang mga panukalang batas ay nai-ayon na sa maingat na pagbabalanse ng right to information ng mga mamamayan sa isang panig, at ng interest for reasonable confidentiality ng pamahalaan, sa kabilang panig.

Tapos at husto na ang balancing act na ito ng gobyerno. Ang huling balakid ngayon sa pagsasabatas ng FOI ay ang walang sapat na batayang pangamba at takot ng ilang lider bg bayan sa ating pagsulong ng ating karapatang makalaam, makialam, at makastigo ang gobyerno.

Sa araw na ito, kasama ng mga mamamamayan, kaming mga taga-mass media– pahayagan, radyo, telebisyon, online – ay iisang boses na naninindigan para sa iisang kahilinan: Political will mula kina Pangulong Aquino, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonye, Jr., na pamunuan ang kanilang mga ahensiya upang ipasa na agad-agad ang FOI law.

Konting panahon na lang, matatapos na ang panunungkulan ng 15th Congress. Dapat sana ay naisulong at naisabatas na ang FOI, kahapon pa. Ngayon ang panahon para magdesisyon at mamuno ang mga lider ng bayan.

—-

Push, Pass the FOI Act Now!

In 1986 at EDSA, the first people power revolt ended 21 years of a government so dark and so opaque, and ushered in one of light and transparency. The strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos was vanquished and democracy icon Corazon C. Aquino came to power.

A year later, the 1987 Constitution enshrined state policies of full transparency and accountability in the conduct of all public officials and employees, and of full public disclosure of information vested with public interest. The Constitution upheld the people’s right to know and be informed about all policies, projects, and programs of government that involve use of taxpayers’ money.

It is now 2012, or over 26 years after EDSA. Filipinos today are the most exuberant in their exercise of the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of peaceable assembly for redress of just grievances. But one other inalienable freedom that the Constitution also guarantees — Freedom of Information — remains just a bill perpetually stuck in the legislative wringer over the last 14 years, hobbled by the discombobulating “concerns” of the Executive, and mocked by restrictive administrative fiats of the judiciary, the House of Representatives, and even the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Freedom of Information Act long promised by the Constitution to this day remains just a promise. And from the 12th to the present 15th Congress, despite the dozens of bills filed and refiled, it seems like we always return to square one, marching but only in place, on the FOI Act.

The second Aquino administration of Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III was installed in June 2010 on major summons for the citizens and public officials to trek the “daang matuwid”, rid the nation of corruption, and alleviate poverty. From birth, it is an administration that seems naturally betrothed to pushing and passing the FOI Act. Two years and two months on office hence, the administration and its Liberal Party-led coalition in the House of Representatives have yet to do the job.

From various accounts of senior officials and pro-administration legislators, their less than vigorous interest to pass the FOI Act supposedly derives from a few reasons: 1. That some Executive agencies have become more transparent anyway, they are already uploading online some budget and public finance documents; 2. That the FOI Act seems largely an issue of the middle class and the media; 3. That the FOI Act might not get the numbers needed in the House, and with the May 2013 elections coming soon, might divide more than unite the political parties.

Online uploads of public documents are just half the transparency equation that the FOI Act must guarantee. The other, more important half of the equation that an FOI Act guarantees is the public disclosure of documents on request or on demand of citizens asserting their right to access information in government custody.

Citizens need and must know how public officials exercise their powers and authorities, how they spend public funds, what contracts and agreements they sign and seal on our behalf, what policy issues bother them that must also bother us so we may participate in making decisions.

Citizens need and must know what programs exist for the delivery of the most basic services, as well as how they can access with success and within reasonable time frames the most relevant public documents they need to secure and safeguard their most basic needs. Indeed, in the panoply of rights, the right to information is both the most supreme and the most fundamental as it is the bedrock of all our rights to education, property, livelihood, even life.

The right to information is our protection against government abuse, at the same time that it is our power to make government accountable.
But our right to information, as great and self-executing as it is under the 1987 Constitution, requires a complementing legislation to ensure its clear-cut, full and predictable operation. Twenty-six years and five presidents since, the FOI Act remains just a promise.

Over that long wait, the proposed measure has undergone numerous adjustments to carefully balance the people’s right to information on the one hand, and the interests for reasonable confidentiality and sound administrative practice, on the other.

This balancing process has already been exhausted. In truth what is now left preventing the passage of the FOI law are the personal and speculative fears of our leaders of the people’s exercise of their right to know.

Today, we speak with one voice and join the rest of the people in demanding political will on the part of President Aquino, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to lead their respective institutions in immediately enacting the FOI law.

With time fast running out on the 15th Congress, the long wait for the FOI Act should be over yesterday. The time for decision is now.

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado is a Content Strategist with over 13 years experience in blogging, content management, citizen advocacy and media literacy and over 23 years in web development. Otherwise known as @MomBlogger on social media, she believes in making a difference in the lives of her children by advocating social change for social good.

She is a co-founder and a member of the editorial board of Blog Watch . She is a resource speaker on media literacy, social media , blogging, digital citizenship, good governance, transparency, parenting, women’s rights and wellness, and cyber safety.

Her personal blogs such as aboutmyrecovery.com (parenting) , pinoyfoodblog.com (recipes), techiegadgets.com (gadgets) and beautyoverfifty.net (lifestyle), benguetarabica.coffee keep her busy outside of Blog Watch.

Disclosure:

I am an advocate. I am NOT neutral. I will NOT give social media mileage to members of political clans, epal, a previous candidate for the same position and those I believe are a waste of taxpayers’ money.

I do not support or belong to any political party.

She was a Senior Consultant for ALL media engagements for the PCOO-led Committee on Media Affairs & Strategic Communications (CMASC) under the ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council from January 4 -July 5, 2017. Having been an ASEAN advocate since 2011, she has written extensively about the benefits of the ASEAN community and as a region of opportunities on Blog Watch and aboutmyrecovery.com.

Organization affiliation includes Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation

Updated Juky 15, 2019

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