Statement on the non- inclusion of the FOI bill in the President's priority

FOI Critical in Addressing Corruption

 President Aquino, Please Keep Your Promise to Make FOI Bill a Priority

Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition

10 February 2011

Amid an ongoing congressional investigation on deep-rooted corruption in the military, we appeal to President Aquino to reconsider inclusion of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill in his list of legislative priorities. This should send the strongest signal to the country and the world that he remains truly committed to his anti-corruption agenda.

We cannot overemphasize the role that an FOI law will play in transforming government culture. As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile observed when he explained the Senate’s commitment to the measure in the last Congress: “I think that if we do this, our desire for a more straightforward and honest government will be accomplished, because then people will have to be very, very careful and circumspect in performing their work in government, in transacting their official business, and in spending the money of the people.”

 

Necessary Supplement to Constitutional Right

While the Constitution guarantees the people’s right to information in the Bill of Rights, experience shows that its effective implementation requires the institutionalization of the necessary substantive and procedural details that only legislation can provide. President Aquino himself knows this. Asked by media after his proclamation whether his administration will prioritize the FOI bill, he said: “Yes, iba pa rin yung ano eh, may force of law, so that would be I think the more complete route.” (view at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA5jZVlTKaM)

 

 

The institutionalization of the necessary substantive and procedural details, “with the force of law” is what the passage of the long overdue Freedom of Information Act will achieve. It provides a standard and definite procedure for dealing with requests for information. It clearly defines a list of exceptions, carefully balancing the public interest in broad disclosure with the public interest in keeping certain information secret. It secures for citizens concurrent remedies in cases of denial of access to information. It provides implementing mechanics for the public disclosure of a list of important government transactions, without need of request from anyone. It provides criminal and administrative sanctions for violation of the right to information. Finally, it introduces numerous mechanisms for the active promotion of openness in government. All these directly address the substantive and operational gaps that have made the Constitutional right to information extremely difficult to enforce in practice.

 

FOI Also Necessary for Social and Economic Agenda

The passage of the FOI law will serve not only President Aquino’s anti-corruption agenda, it will also serve well any agenda for economic growth and social justice. Institutionalized and predictable transparency builds confidence in the economy. We are certain that its passage will facilitate a quick improvement in most international indices on anti-corruption, good governance and rule of law, and contribute substantially in the improvement of international perception of the country. It is no surprise that the business sector supports the passage of this law.

But the other equally important benefit of having an FOI law is its availability to every ordinary citizen as they transact with government or access its programs and services. Be it on housing, social welfare programs such as CCT, agrarian reform, or social and health security programs at both national and local levels, an ordinary citizen needs both background information as well as documentation to effectively avail of such services.

The passage of the FOI law will dramatically change the way government will handle these information needs.

 

Prioritizing FOI Not Inconsistent with Addressing the President’s Concerns

We are no stranger to apprehensions by top government officials over the passage of the FOI bill. One of such apprehensions is always over the treatment by the bill of sensitive information.

We recognize that the people’s right to information, like all the other constitutional guarantees, is not absolute. Thus, limitations may be provided by law, and the pending bills that adopt the bicameral conference committee version of the 14th Congress take the challenge of setting forth these exceptions. In crafting the exceptions, the bills have been guided by the classes of information that the Supreme Court has identified as areas for reasonable limitation of the right. These include national security, foreign affairs, law enforcement, trade secrets, personal privacy, and the administration of justice. What the bill does is to circumscribe the said areas for reasonable exceptions with narrow specificity as would limit the space for overbroad and arbitrary interpretation. This was done by specifying the harm or damage to public interest that will result if the relevant information is made publicly available. 

We also emphasize that the bills have already evolved over several Congresses, and passed through numerous debates, discussions and consensus building among the various stakeholders from both the government and non-government sides, and subjected to the close scrutiny of legislators in the various stages of the legislative process.

Still, we have always been open to further refinements of the bill to address whatever concerns remain. In fact, we participated in the last technical working group (TWG) meeting of the House Committee on Public Information, and further amendments to the bill have been agreed to. In this TWG, more than 30 executive agencies have been invited, 18 of which have submitted position papers. Some of these position papers raise 2 remaining concerns, but all agencies support and see the necessity of passing the FOI law.

In truth, we want the FOI law to be an effective law, which can only come from a very careful balancing of the various legitimate interests involve. But the consideration of remaining concerns by President Aquino on the FOI is not incompatible with him identifying it as a priority of his administration. It’s prioritization in fact will provide focus and determination to address whatever concerns remain.

 

Appeal to the President for Clear Signal and Concrete Action

We have made repeated attempts to appeal to President Aquino to give a decisive signal of support for the measure; this has been a clear aspiration of the support for his administration. We wrote him in July last year, through Executive Secretary Ochoa, Presidential Chief of Staff Julia Abad, and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, appealing that the FOI law be indentified as one of his priorities. But not only was our letter not responded to, the FOI bill was also not mentioned at all in the SONA. We wrote him again more recently through Secretaries Carandang, Coloma and Lacierda, appealing for the inclusion of the FOI bill in his priorities, even as we expressed openness to refinements in the bill to respond to any concerns he may have, including those already expressed by Secretary Coloma in Congress. We must confess that the President’s refusal to include the FOI bill in his list of priority measures is a big letdown. 

We have heard various voices from the executive on the proposed measure. But in the end, the determination of the Executive’s ultimate priorities and stand is the President’s call; it is a question of leadership. 

Given that the LEDAC is scheduled at the end of the month yet, we again make our earnest and most respectful appeal to President Aquino to include the FOI bill in his list of priorities. We also appeal to President Aquino to assign specific members of his administration to more formally, and within a specific timeframe, study the latest version of the bill and assess it against his concerns. We understand that there is a comprehensive memorandum prepared by Deputy Speaker Tañada discussing the concerns raised so far and concrete refinements will be introduced in the TWG proposed consolidation of the FOI bill. On our part, we again offer our readiness to constructively discuss whatever concerns remain, towards the objective of coming up with a bill that strikes a careful and reasonable balance between the people’s right to access information and other legitimate, competing interests. 

We make this appeal fully confident of the President’s appreciation of the value of a Freedom of Information Act in promoting good governance, transparency and accountability, and responsive government services.

 

RIGHT TO KNOW. RIGHT NOW! COALITION

1. Bishop Broderick Pabillo

2. Dr. Florangel Rosario - Braid

3. Mr. Vincent T . Lazatin 4. Ms. Malou Mangahas 5. Mr. Peter Angelo V. Perfecto 6. Bishop Benny M. Abante, Jr.

7. Ms. Adelina Alvarez Mr. Red Batario

8. Atty. Roberto Cadiz 9. Prof. Luis T eodoro 10. Mr. Filomeno S. Sta Ana III 11. Ms. Jenina Joy Chavez

12. Ms. Rowena Paraan Mr. Sonny Fernandez

Mr. Nestor Burgos 13. Ms. Annie Geron

14. Dean Antonio La Viña 15. Mr. Joshua Mata 16. Ms. Yuen Abana 17. Ms. Precy Bellomes 18. Mr. Teody Navea

Mr. Gem de Guzman 19. Atty. Virginia S. Jose 20. Ms. Judy Pasimio

21. Ms. Starjoan Villanueva

22. Mr. Sixto Donato Macasaet

23. Mr. Isagani Serrano

24. Ms. Ana Maria R. Nemenzo Ms. Mercedes Fabros

25. Prof. Leonor M. Briones 26. Dr. Rene Ofreneo

Auxillary Bishop, Manila; National Director of CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action Justice&Peace (NASSA-JP)

Member, 1986 Constitutional Commission and Chair, Communication, UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines

Transparency and Accountability Network

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Makati Business Club

BIBLEMODE International; Chairman, Committee on Public Information, 14th Congress

Center for Community Journalism and Development

LIBERT AS Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Action for Economic Reforms Focus on the Global South – Philippines National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK)

Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) Partido ng Manggagawa MAKABAYAN

Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP)

Citizens' Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC)

Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center - Kasama sa Kalikasan

Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM) CODE-NGO Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement WomanHealth Philippines

Social Watch Philippines Center for Labor Justice

427. Ms. Jelen Paclarin

28. Mr. Jun S. Aguilar Mr. Elso Cabangon

29. Atty. Eirene Jhone E. Aguila Mr. Harvey Keh

30. Ms. Teresita Ang See 31. Mr. Joseph Purugganan

32. Mr. Milo Tanchuling Ms. Maitet Diokno-Pascual

33. Mr. Ted Ong 34. Dr. Sixto K. Roxas

35. Judge Dolores L. Español (Ret.) 36. Mr. Al Alegre 37. Dr. J. Prospero De Vera III

38. Atty. T anya Lat

39. Mr. Raul Socrates Banzuela

40. Mr. Chester Amparo

41. Mr. Lisandro Claudio Mr. Jeffrey Crisostomo

42. Mr. Ramon Tuazon 43. Mr. Pablo Rosales

44. Mr. Crispino Aguelo

45. Ms. Karen T añada 46. Prof. Gigi Francisco

47. Mr. Byron Abadeza

48. Mr. Abby Y. Pato 49. Ms. Carolyn Arguillas 50. Mr. Abner Francisco 51. Mr. Rey Hulog 52. Mr. Jose Pavia 53. Ms. Angelica Simone Mangahas 54. Mr. Bartholome Guingona 55. Ms. Ellene Sana

Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau Filipino Migrant Workers

Team RP; Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership

Citizens Action Against Crime

EU-ASEAN FTA Campaign Network-Philippines; Stop the New Round Coalition

Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC)

Freedom from Debt Coalition - Iloilo

Maximo T. Kalaw Institute for Sustainable Development

Transparency International – Philippines Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA)

National College of Public Administration and Governance

IDEALS PAKISAMA Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD) Akbayan Youth

Philippines Communication Society

Progresibong Alyansa ng mga Mangingisda (PANGISDA); Pambansang Katipunan ng Makabayang Magbubukid (PKMM)

Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA)

Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute

Development Alternatives for Women in the New Era (DAWN)

Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific

Task Force on Food Sovereignty - Mindanao MindaNews DXCA – FM Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas Philippine Press Institute

Ateneo Debate Society pagbabago@pilipinas Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA)

5

56. Ms. Ester Perez T agle 57. Ms. Luz Malihiran 58. Mr. Doy Cinco 59. Ms. Arze Glipo

60. Mr. Ric Serrano Mr. Roland Cabigas

61. Mr. Rey Rasing 62. Ms. Paulyn Duman 63. Mr. Ed Mora 64. Prof. Carlos Magtolis, Jr. 65. Ms. Evi-T a Jimenez 66. Mr. Ben-Hur Sacopla 67. Dr. Buenaventura B. Dargantes 68. Mr. Boy Nuera 69. Mr. Roy Calfoforo

70. Mr. Alain Pascua

71. Mr. Reggie Guillen 72. Mr. Horacio T. Cadiz 73. Mr. Joe Valencia 74. Mr. Nestor Villanueva 75. Ms. Mardi Mapa-Suplido 76. Dr. Jose Reuben Alagaran 77. Ms. Aurora Regalado

78. Mr. Ernesto Lim Jr. 79. Mr. Anthony Marzan 80. Mr. Nonoy Oplas 81. Mr. Jesus Vicente Garganera 82. Ms. Luz Cabucos-Fegarido 83. Ms. Ma. Lourdes M. Tison 84. Ms. Trinidad Domingo

85. Mr. Richard Gutierrez 86. Mr. Czarina Sacaguing

87. Dr. Ma. Olivia Domingo 88. Dr. Angelo Ramos

Concerned Citizens Against Pollution (COCAP) Community Organizers Multiversity Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD) Integrated Rural Development Foundation

La Liga Policy Institute

Labor Education and Research Network (LEARN) UP Law Student Government Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas Siliman University – ASPAP

Center for People Empowerment in Governance

Southern Luzon State University ASPAP – Region IV

Program on Integrated Water Resources

Pandayan para sa Sosyalistang Pilipinas (PANDAYAN)

People's Alternative Studies Center for Research and Education in Social Develoment (PASCRES)

Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan All Filipino Democratic Movement (KAAKBAY)

GCAP-Phils

The Philippine Network Foundation, Inc (PHNET)

KASAPI-HELLAS

Akbayan Greece

Negros Peace Watch

Philippines Communication Society

Management Organization for Development and Empowerment

People’s Campaign on Agrarian Reform (AR NOW!) KAISAHAN Minimal Government Thinkers Alyansa Tigil Mina

RSW

Paghiliusa sa Paghidaet-Negros (PsPN)

Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan

Ban Toxics

Confederation of Student Government in the Philippines

Center for Leadership, Citizenship and Democracy, UP NCPAG

Philippine Community e-Center Network

6

89. Ms. Mae Sabio 90. Mr. Diosdado Calmada 91. Ms. Lanie Factor 92. Ms. Maris Dela Cruz - Cardenas 93. Atty. Elpidio Peria

Sulong CARPER

PEACE

Task Force Mapalad

EmPOWER Consumers

Third World Network; Vice Chairman, Social Concerns Committee, IBP South Cotabato – General Santos City

94. Mr. Angelito R. Mendoza 95. Mr. Omi Royandoyan 96. Ms. Florencia Casanova-Dorotan 97. Ms. Violeta Corral 98. Ms. Michelle Domocol 99. Ms. Maita Gomez 100. College Editors Guild of the Philippines

101. Ms. Emy M. Santos 102. Ms. T es M. Borgoños

103. Ms. Marilyn Fuentes 104. Atty. Michael Yu 105. Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio

106. Ms. Tin Borja

107. Mr. JC Tejano

108. Mr. Romeo Cabugnasan

109. Mr. Gus Miclat

110. Mr. Antonio Claparols Mr. Javier Claparols

111. Dr. Helen N. Mendoza 112. Ms. Maria Rita Melecio 113. Mr. Juanito Enriquez 114. Ms. Edeliza Hernandez 115. Ms. Laudica Casana 116. Ms. Flordeliz Abanto

Coalition for Health Advocacy and Transparency Centro Saka Women’s Action Network for Development Aksyon para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan Visayas Climate Action Network

Bantay Kita

National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO)

Manggagawang Kababaihang Mithi ay Paglaya (MAKALAYA)

National Union of Building and Construction Workers Integrated Bar of the Philippines - Cebu City Chapter

Center for Women’s Studies, University of the Philippines

UP ALYANSA UP BUKLOD CSSP Alyansa ng Maralitang Pilipino Initiative for International Dialogue Ecological Society of the Philippines

Soljuspax

Task Force Detainees of the Philippines – Davao

Civil Society Organization Forum for Peace

Medical Action Group

Anda Rural Women Workers Alliance for Progress

Philippine Association of Communication Educators Foundation, Inc. (PACE)

117. Ms. Victoria M. Segovia 118. Ms. Grace Chua 119. Ms. Noemi Tirona 120. Ms. Leah Primitiva Samaco-Paquiz Ang Nars 121. Mr. Manny C. Calonzo Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives 122. Ms. Paula Mae B. Tanquieng Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo (AGAP)

Partnership for Clean Air Consumer Rights for Safe Food Network Opposed to GMOs

7

123. Ms. Annie M. Sandalo Code Foundation, Inc. 124. Ed Caharian Philippine Agency for Community and Family 125. Fr. Victor "Junvic" Diolata, Jr., SSS Association of Major Religious Superiors

Fr. Jesus Malit, SSS Sr. Mary John Mannanzan, OSB

126. Mr. Narciso Jover Jr.

127. Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos ` Atty. Dante T . Ramos

128. Maria V. Mendoza

129. Mr. Tirso N. Paglicawan, Jr. Mr. Dante Dean M. Barola

130. Mr. Manuel G. Rama 131. Ms. Marlene Ramirez 132. Ms. Minerva Gonzales 133. Mr. Angelito Calderon 134. Ms. Ember Cruz

135. Ms. Mary Joycer Filomeno 136. Ms. Eileen Matute 137. Mr. David Diwa 138. Mr. Angel Dimalanta

139. Mr. Ritz Lee B. Santos III

140. Ms. Lia Jasmin Esquillo 141. Mr. Nazaño Cacayan 142. Mr. Frank Meno 143. Mr. Eleuterio Tuazon 144. Mr. Ronaldo Tuazon 145. Mr. John Gamit

146. Mr. Manny Arias

147. Ms. Romina Astrid Lim

148. James Auste

149. Mr. Vince Cinches

150. Dr. Suzette H. Lazo, MD

151. Mr. Ronald Adlawan

152. Fr. Carmelo O. Diola

153. Mr. Roberto Versola Mr. Riedo Panaligan

of the Pilippines (AMRSP)

Tri-people Concern for Peace, Progress and Development of Mindanao (TRICOM)

Phil. Earth Justice Center, Inc.

Fair Trade Alliance - Philippines (FairTrade)

Kapisanan ng mga Kawani ng Koreo sa Pilipinas (KKKP); Hukuman ng Mamamayan Movement, Inc.

PhilPost Rank-and-File Employees Association AsiaDHRRA Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Asia Lakas Mangagawa Labor Center (LMLC) Trade Advocates Group

Youth Advocates for Economic Progress (YAEP) Coconut Industry Reform Movement (COIR) National Labor Union Automotive Industry Workers Alliance

Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (BALAOD Mindanaw); Amnesty International – Cagayan de Oro

Interface Development Interventions Yamog Foundation Philippine Metalworkers Alliance (PMA) Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions Workers Welfare Watch – Philippines Christian Life Community of the Philippines Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Mangagawa sa Pilipinas Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest Project Cancer Warriors Foundation

Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center Inc.

Youth for Nationalism and Democracy Dilaab Foundation Inc. Philippine Greens

154. Ms. Evangeline Crisostomo Escobillo

8

155. 156. 157. 158.

Mr. Felipe Buencamino Ms. Jessica Reyes-Cantos Prof. Michael Alba Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan

Rice Watch and Action Network UP School of Economics Institute for Freedom of Information

 

TAN Causes ›› Access to Information Network ›› Statement on the non- inclusion of the FOI bill in the President's priority