February 15, 2012 · Posted in: General

FOI bill welcome,
but please pass the law

by Rowena Caronan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FREEDOM OF Information (FOI) advocates consider the endorsement by President Benigno S. Aquino III of the FOI bill as their own success.

But if the proof is in the pudding, then the real measure of success would be the passage of the FOI bill into law.

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a group of 150 civil organizations, pushed Congress to sign into law the FOI bill at the soonest possible time without watering down its significant provisions.

The president’s endorsement of the FOI bill has been long overdue, said Rowena Paraan, secretary general of National Union of Journalists in the Philippines.

But at the least, Paraan added, there are lessons to be learned from the long tortuous road that advocates had to travel in order to push the Palace into endorsing the bill – lessons such as how the legislative mill really works, the power of Malacañang in policymaking, and the value of citizens’ participation in lobbying for the passage of the bill.

“We welcome the development of the FOI bill but we really would like to welcome the better result, which is to see the law passed,” said Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Deputy House Speaker and Quezon Representative Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada promised during the press conference to schedule the bill for a committee hearing either on February 21 or 28 so that floor deliberations will start before the Holy Week break.

Tanada said he is confident that the country would have an FOI law before the year ends.

However, Tanada also emphasized that the real battle for the FOI bill will not be in the committee level. Rather, it would be on the session floor, when some legislators may try to water down the bill because of their own concerns.

As it stands, Tanada said it is unlikely that any member of Congress would openly declare his opposition to a freedom of information law. Instead, some legislators may try to sneak in revisions or amendments to the bill in order to protect their interests.

Former representative Bienvenido Abante Jr. appealed to members of the Congress not to go on a lengthy debate and approve the bill immediately.

Tañada said he hopes that the House would approve its own version of the bill before the Congress goes on recess on June so that a bicameral can be convened by the time it resumes.

During a bicameral, both chambers of the House will merge their versions and agree on a new one. Only then will a combined version of the bill be presented to the President for signing into law.

If the bill has reached the Malacañang stage, it poses no problem if Aquino has included it as part of its priority measures during a Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). But this is yet to happen and is yet to show the true commitment of the president with the passage of the bill, advocates say.

In a statement, the Philippine Alliance for Human Rights Coalition said an efficient process of “accessing SALN will effectively prevent and prosecute graft and corruption among government officials as these adversely affect the economic, socio, and cultural rights of the people.”

Meanwhile, members of the coalition reiterated the need for citizens to keep pushing for the passage of the FOI bill and engage in the practice of accessing public documents with or without the bill.

Joshua Mata, secretary general of Alliance of Progressive Labor, said he really hopes for the passage of FOI bill. He said the bill would help them review the country’s trade benefits and pursue several cases of alleged corruption in the government.

 

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