by Cong B. Corrales
FROM ANGOLA to Angeles, from Malta to Malolos, from the Bahamas to Binondo, Filipinos from all over the world pitched in their support for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill by signing an online petition urging the President and Congress to pass the bill into law.
The petition not only crosses international boundaries, but also breaks through social structures and layers. Petitioners include representatives from the academic community, artists groups, show business, the business community, civil society, and of course, media.
The online petition was started several weeks ago by the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition through the online platform Change.org.
As of 2 pm, July 24, the group already has a combined total of 38,000 signatures collected both online, through the Change.org website, and offline through actual signature collection points all over the country.
The collected signatures will be turned over to Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Friday, July 25, three days before President Benigno S. Aquino III gives his State of the Nation Address before Congress.
Advocates for the FOI have been prodding Malacanang to certify the FOI bill as urgent so that it can glide through the congressional wringer. Advocates are also asking Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to speed up the congressional process by ensuring quicker action by the committee on public information. Previous attempts to pass an FOI law have been met with consistent disappointments as legislators have been sitting on the measure since it was first filed in 1987.
Launched at the start of July, the online petition, as of 2 p.m. has already gathered 16,235 signatures. In addition, at least 21,965 Filipinos have also signed the petition from the various onsite/offline signing booths across the country organized by R2RKN members.
Even Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and fellow advocates from as far as Angola, Malta, Bahamas, Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan and the Middle East have registered their support for the FOI bill.
The FOI bill—when enacted—will give Filipinos the right to access public information on demand, cutting through the culture of secrecy that has smothered public access to information for decades. As PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas said during the 1st FOI Youth Congress at the University of the Philippines, access to public information is not the exclusive concern of journalists but is grounded on a more basic human right guaranteed by the United Nations.
The PCIJ is a co-convenor of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition. R2KRN! is a network of 160 media, civil society, and lawyers groups.
The roster of supporters who have signed the online petition is a veritable transect of Philippine society.
If teachers are meant to be followed, the FOI bill should have been passed by Congress long ago, if one goes by the support given to the online petition by the academe.
The roster of supporters from the academe include: Roberto Vitangcol of the National Institute of Physics of the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UP); Nina Carandang of UP-Manila College of Medicine; Ace Bryan Cabal of the National Research and Development of UP Manila; Paz Eulalia Saplala of the Agricultural Development Communications of UP-Los Baños; Dr. Amelia Punzalan of the National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development of UP-Diliman; Dr. Benito Teehankee, board of trustees of University of San Carlos and College of Business at De La Salle University; and Dean Raul Pangalangan of UP-Diliman’s College of Law.
Nicole Curato, a 2013 The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Awardee in the field of Sociology and assistant professor at the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy of UP-Diliman, has signified her support, as well.
Pulse Asia Board of Trustees President Ronnie Holmes—who is also the executive director of the De La Salle University System—also signed the online petition.
Academics from the various regions have also weighed in. Prof. Hannah Mariveles, chairperson of the Communication Department of the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City signed up. From Mindanao, the signatories include Zayda Macarambon, Director of the Cultural Development Office at Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT); Pat Ray Dagapioso of the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities at MSU-Naawan in Misamis Oriental; and Aguam Macarambon of the Communication and Media Studies Department of MSU-Marawi.
Former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Fulgencio Factoran and former Presidential Assistant for Mindanao-now Philippine Press Institute Chairman Jesus Dureza also signed the online petition.
From the business community, Makati Business Club chairman Ramon del Rosario Jr. and board member Edgar Chua signed the online petition. Also, ANZ Bank of Jakarta President and Commissioner Enrique Bernardo signed the petition.
There were personalities from the movie, film, and television industry who also threw in their support for the FOI. Among the signatories to the online petition for the FOI were acclaimed director Peque Gallaga, and screen personalities Jaime Fabregas, Susan Tagle, Dante Ornedo, Malou Dagondon, Sher Bautista and 1976 Miss Maja Pilipinas Cynthia Nakpil.
Also showing their support for the petition are award winning writers Lualhati Bautista, Isagani Cruz; expressionist painter Paul Hilario; sculptor Henri Cainglet; singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon; and RockEd Philippines founder Gang Badoy.
The signatories to the petition gave different reasons for their support for the FOI bill, but almost all the reasons revolved around the concepts of transparency and accountability from government, and how these would help in combating corruption in government.
A Wordle created by PCIJ’s Julius Mariveles shows the reasons given by petitioners for their support for the FOI, sized in proportion to the popularity of the reason
“A very good mechanism against corruption,” Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr, OMI, PhD of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate commented in the online petition. Fr. Mercado served as President of Notre Dame University in Cotabato, Mindanao from 1992 to 2002. He is the permanent representative of the OMI to the United Nations as an Accredited NGO at the UN Department of Public Information and at the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), both in New York and Geneva.
Danilo Baquilod of Tacloban City who is now based in Angola commented: “This is a very good tool for democracy and fighting chance for ordinary Filipino to fight corruption and expose the parasites in the government. This is my right as a Filipino citizen.”
For his part, John Paul Escrin, an OFW working in Australia, said: “Pilipino po ako, karapatan kung malaman kung saan napunta at paano ginagamit ang buwis na binabayad ko.”