By Cong B. Corrales

IT’S THE MOMENT of truth for all political parties and the nation’s political leaders.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition urged all politicians their political parties to take a stand on the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, saying it is a strategic policy issue that does not allow any fence-sitting by the nation’s leaders.

Coalition Convenor Atty.Nepomuceno Malaluan issued the call in light of the unanimous approval last Sept. 2, of a consolidated version of over a dozen FOI bills by the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the Committee on Public Information of the House of Representatives.

The Senate had earlier approved on third and final reading its counterpart version of the bill.

“More than the individuals, the political parties should now make their stand on the FOI bill. They owe it to the people to make their position known,” Malaluan said at a press conference Friday.

Taking a stand on the FOI bill is of utmost importance, he said, citing that the House now only has a single, consolidated bill to study.

On Tuesday, the House public information committee’s TWG — departing from its paragraph-by-paragraph deliberation in earlier meetings — approved all the remaining provisions from Section 7 (f) through Section 33 of the consolidated version of the bill. The TWG also approved the Title and Short Title of the bill. This was the result, he said, of the cooperation of the various forces supporting the bill.

“As we have said even in the 15th Congress, the political parties cannot be fence-sitters for the most part with neither leadership nor clarity of purpose with respect to the constitutionality guaranteed state policies of transparency and accountability that the FOI bill upholds,” Malaluan said. “There is no room for a conscience vote on the FOI bill.”

PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas, for her part, said that amid the back-and-forth charges of corruption and misuse of public funds between political parties, it is high time for all politicians, regardless of party affiliation, to pass the FOI bill and usher in a genuinely transparent and accountable government.

“Hindi na pwede ang turuan ngayon,” said Mangahas.

PCIJ is a founding member of the Right to Know Coalition, a network of over 160 civil society and sectoral groups and leaders that is behind the advocacy for the passage of the FOI bill for many years now.

In light of the known historical resistance to the passage of the FOI in Congress, Malaluan said, the Coalition would like to see the passage of the FOI Act by yearend at the earliest, or by the first quarter of 2015 at the latest.

The following factors, he said, could help enable its passage:

+ Sustained and intensifying people’s campaign for FOI;

* The commitment of an expanding core of FOI champions in Congress;

* Sustained effort by the Committee Chairman Rep. Jorge Almonte to shepherd the FOI bill through the committee process;

* Political push for the FOI bill from the highest levels of leadership, specifically by President Benigno S. Aquino III, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon; and

* Prompt action on the bill to avoid the known complication of delay.

“Napakalayo pa ang tatahakin ng FOI bill kaya kailangan ng sustained campaign,” said Malaluan.

He pointed out that it is imperative that the bill be passed into law by the first quarter of 2015 because “beyond that period, it will be overrun again by other issues.”

Malaluan said that the consolidated form of the FOI bill — if passed — passed could mean substantial gains for all citizens, and firm advance of their right to information.

“Once the FOI bill is out of the Committee, the political question rests on President Aquino, Speaker Belmonte, and Senate President Drilon,” he said.

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