THERE ARE those who say that Freedom of Information (FOI) is not a “sexy” topic, and that many people would rather talk about issues of food and shelter than issues about information.
Not so, say veteran and award-winning photojournalists who have taken up the challenge of grounding the FOI issue on something more basic – corruption, poverty, and the lack of basic services.
FOI advocates have created a special Facebook album where any photographer, amateur or professional, can share images that illustrate the connections between the lack of transparency and the lack of basic services.
The first eight photos uploaded into the album strike a clear message for all: Without the transparency and accountability that Freedom of Information can bring, corruption will go unchecked, basic services will not be delivered, and poverty will continue to haunt us like a persistent shadow on the pavement.
So far, the uploaded photographs share a common theme: FOI! Saan napunta ang pera? or FOI: Where did our money go? However, photographs and images do not necessarily have to be limited to this theme. Contributors are encouraged to be creative too and see how they can visualize other connections between the FOI and the concerns of Filipinos.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Chairperson Rowena Paraan said the first eight images were contributed for free by various award-winning photojournalists, including Jes Aznar, who recently won the Excellence in News Photography Award from the Society of Publishers in Asia for his coverage of Supertyphoon Yolanda; Raymund Villanueva of Bulatlat; Interaksyon’s Nonoy Espina; and Julius Mariveles of the PCIJ, “to help the public learn and understand the impact of FOI to every Filipino.”
More than ensuring greater and genuine transparency and accountability in government, an FOI law may also lead to higher and more substantive citizen engagement in governance – the very essence of a democratic government.
Paraan encouraged other photographers and visual artists to contribute to the Facebook album with their own interpretation of FOI and its connection to the many issues that are now topmost on Filipinos’ minds. Everyone is also encouraged to share these photos on other social media sites.
The Facebook album is part of a bigger campaign to push the passage of the FOI bill that remains stalled in the 16th Congress, four years into the term of President Benigno S. Aquino III. The President has indicated that he supports the principle of the bill, but has hedged his endorsement of the measure for the last four years. Many legislators have said that all it takes for the bill to get through the congressional wringer is a simple endorsement by the President.
The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a network of 160 media, civil society, and lawyers groups, is already collecting online signatures in support of the FOI through Change.org. The petition has already gathered 15,353 signatures as of Wednesday, July 9. The coalition plans to hand-deliver the gathered signatures to President Aquino before he delivers his State of the Nation Address on July 28.
In the recently concluded FOI Youth Congress at the University of the Philippines, PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas stressed that access to public information is not the exclusive concern of journalists; rather, this access is grounded on a more basic human right guaranteed by the United Nations. The PCIJ is one of the convenors of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition. Cong B. Corrales