Lighting up for passage of Freedom of Information bill in the Philippines


Hundreds of information organisations from around the world will again commemorate September 28 (International Right to Know Day). The right to know day started 11 years ago in Sofia, Bulgaria when the FOI Advocates Network was formed to promote access to information for all people and the benefits of open, transparent, and accountable governments.

The international FOI network was also a way for right-to-know advocates to share ideas and success stories. Sadly, the Philippines has no success story to share, yet.

But the Philippines’ civil society Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition (R2KRN) has not stopped hoping that one day the country will have its own FOI law.

Last year was a big disappointment to FOI advocates. Despite online lobbying and public rallies to draw support for FOI in the Philippines, the FOI bill did not even rate a mention in President Benigno Aquino’s State of the Nation Address.

Then on December 12 last year, after the bill was approved on second reading in the Senate, the passage of the bill would have progressed had it been actioned by the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, nothing happened. Excuses, like the unavalability of Rep Ben Evardone, then chairperson of the lower house public information committee, and lack of meeting rooms, etc., were given to explain lack of action.

But R2KRN advocates have continued their fight.

And in the new Congress, they found new champions – with the bill passing the Senate committee level last Wednesday September 18 and set for plenary debates.

Newly elected Sen. Grace Poe, now chair of the Senate Committee on public information and mass media, was quoted saying that an FOI law is very important in the fight against corruption in the government.

It is in the lower house that R2KRN anticipates “tough work ahead”, said R2KRN Coalition’s Atty Nepomuceno Malaluan.

The public hearings on the FOI bill in the House of Representatives have yet to start. Already, excuses like lack of rooms and personal emergencies have been reported as the explanation of Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte for not holding the hearings.

Almonte is chairman of the House committee on public information. He said “he tried to schedule another meeting on Sept. 24 but the hearing rooms are fully booked and many of the committee members are also scheduled to attend other public hearings.”

But R2KRN is not short of tactics.

A candlelight vigil will be staged on Friday September 27, the last session of the House of Representatives before taking a two-week break. September 27 is also the eve of the International Right to Know Day.

Jeff Crisostomo and nine other FOI advocates have created an event page on Facebook inviting friends to join them in their crusade for the passage of FOI and for the people’s fight against corruption.

Below is an excerpt of the group’s posting on how everyone can help:

“We will assemble at 5 o’clock in the afternoon for a short program. By 6:30 p.m. we will light candles to symbolize our desire to have a government where information is illuminated and made accessible to all citizens.

“Those who will not be able to join us in Batasan are encouraged to organize their own candle-lighting events in their own localities. You can also be involved via social media by posting a photo of yourself with a lit candle and a statement stating your call for the passage of the FOI Bill, with hashtag #LightUp4FOI. (Ex. “Ako si [NAME]; kasama ako sa panawagang ipasa na ang FOI Bill! #LightUp4FOI” or “I am [NAME]; I am one with the call for the passage of the FOI Bill! #LightUp4FOI”)

Panahon na para sa FOI sa ating bansa. Sa dami ng lumalantad na isyung may kinalaman sa pondo ng mamamayan, palakasin natin ang panawagang ipasa ang batas na magtitiyak na ang pamahalaan natin ay bukas at may pananagutan.?

emanila websites and this writer support R2KRN’s candlelight vigil aimed at calling for the passage of the FOI Bill.

Tayo na para sa FOI!

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Comments

  1. Elso U. Cabangon says

    Re-posting a FB message yesterday (Sept 24) from Nepo Malaluan:

    “Today Sen. Grace Poe filed and immediately sponsored the People’s FOI Bill (SB 1733, downloadable from http://senate.gov.ph/lisdata/1787815101!.pdf) under Committee Report No. 2, a day ahead of her target.

    “The Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition, and surely all FOI advocates, are very happy with the decisive action by Sen. Grace Poe, Senate President Frank Drilon, and the rest of the Senate.

    The consolidated FOI bill embodies the long legislative history of the bill, striking a reasonable balance between the people’s right to know and various government concerns. Sen Poe, while taking forward existing consensus on FOI provisions, introduced her own improvements to bring the bill closer to citizens.

    “Advocates are happy not only because of the advance of FOI, but also because of the advance in people’s participation in the legislative process. The committee report and the consolidated bill expressly recognized as one of the measures the People’s FOI bill filed by the coalition through Indirect Initiative.

    “The early and determined push by the Senate provides momentum to bring to greater scrutiny the continued resistance to FOI by the House of Representatives. We gear up for FOI battle in the House of Representatives in high spirits. We invite those who dream of transparent & accountable government to join us Friday, 5pm, at Batasan to ‪#‎LightUp4FOI‬!”

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