A UNIT OF THE influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has joined mounting calls for the 15th Congress to immediately pass the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.
The National Secretariat for Social Action – Justice and Peace (NASSA), described as the social action and development arm of the CBCP, said the lack of access to information “systematically subjects our concerned sectors – farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, workers and rural and urban poor, particularly the Basic Ecclesial communities – to become vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by bad elements in the society.”
NASSA also called on the President to exert more influence on his partymates in Congress to ensure the immediate passage of the measure. President Aquino had announced his support for the FOI measure as early as January this year. However, Congress leaders claim that the President has not given any clear signals to his partymates in Congress to fasttrack the bill. The bill was also not mentioned during the President’s State of the Nation Address in July.
“In the spirit of truth and justice, CBCP-NASSA calls upon President Benigno Aquino III to immediately certify the FOI bill as a priority, and urge all the members of the House of Representatives especially his party members to support the passage of the FOI,” NASSA said in a statement released to the media. “Unless the President sees the urgent need to pass the FOI bill, his campaign on “Matuwid na Daan” is only a slogan, and has no firm basis.”
In the NASSA statement, signed by National Director Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the group wondered why the FOI measure had not yet been passed despite 14 years of lobbying by civil society and media organizations.
In addition, Pabillo wondered why President Aquino has not certified the FOI as one of his urgent measures “when the President demands transparency and accountability in his effort to eliminate corruption in his government.”
“Why has the Congress not called committee hearings on the FOI?” the NASSA statement said. “Why is Malacanang not following-up the calling of hearings if there is nothing to fear about the legislation?”
Read the full text of the CBCP-NASSA statement below:
PASS THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL NOW!
Our peoples’ right to information – access to the records, documents, papers of/on contracts, transactions, decisions, programs, data, regulations, and all other official acts of government – provides greater opportunity for peoples’ participation in good governance. It is a constitutional right of every Filipino to be informed of the governmental affairs to ensure healthy social environment for democratic peoples’ participation in the delivery of programs, projects and services of the government.
The National Secretariat for Social Action – Justice and Peace (NASSA), the social action and development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), calls upon our legislators to PASS THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (FOI) BILL in the 15th Congress. CBCP-NASSA strongly believes FOI adheres to the principle of transparency and accountability. It is an important component to appropriately ensure the flagship governmental advocacy on “MATUWID Na DAAN.”
Lack of access to information systematically subjects our concerned sectors – farmers, fisherfolks, Indigenous peoples, workers and rural and urban poor, particularly the Basic Ecclesial communities – to become vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by bad elements in the society. Unfamiliarity and ignorance of government processes, contracts, activities and services, together with lack of formal education cause deprivation of rights and poverty. Our people then become mere objects of government policies rather than subjects/ participants in their development.
Without access to information, these sectors as well as other sectors in the Philippine society gain no knowledge as to what government plans. They would be unaware of the projects and contracts the national and local governments make for them. Even now, although some of these communities and/ or sectors are consulted, their issues and concerns are not being heard. Our people then eventually tend to develop distrust in government institutions and activities.
CBCP-NASSA finds several questions worthy of reflection:
- Why is it that in 14 years the FOI bill has still not been passed?
- Why did the Aquino Administration not certify FOI as one of the priority bills when the President demands for transparency and accountability in his effort to eliminate corruption in his government?
- Why has the Congress not called committee hearing on FOI? Why is Malacanang not following-up the calling of hearings if there is nothing to fear about the legislation?
- How can the government be true to its mandate according to the 1987 Philippine Constitution Art. III, Section 7, stating “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized” if there is no political will to take concrete steps to adopt FOI?
CBCP-NASSA believes that the passage of the Freedom of Information bill enhances people’s participation in politics and governance. The passage and enforcement of FOI would be a great service to the people; it empowers people with a new tool of information, especially the poor; it promotes social justice by giving the opportunity for social auditing of previously inaccessible public information, all geared towards the pursuit of the common good.
In the spirit of truth and justice, CBCP-NASSA calls upon President Benigno Aquino III to immediately certify the FOI bill as a priority, and urge all the members of the House of Representatives especially his party members, to support the passage of the FOI. Unless the President sees the urgent need to pass the FOI bill, his campaign on “Matuwid na Daan” is only a slogan, and has no firm basis.
We urge Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. to immediately direct the Chairpersons of the Committee on Public Information to conduct committee hearings on the said bill. The House of Representatives should deliberate and decide on the bill before the 15th Congress ends.
CBCP-NASSA also prays for the support of every individual and groups who want to transform Philippine politics into an art of good governance. Let us encourage our respective district representatives and senators to vote for the passage of FOI. As our representatives in the government, their authority resides and emanate from us. Let them truly represent us in Congress by supporting the passage of FOI.
+ BRODERICK S. PABILLO, D.D.
20 September 2012
Or download the CBCP-NASSA statement below: