The World Awaits RP: Freedom of Info Act

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

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TODAY starts a series of mass actions by journalists, workers, students, professionals, business and church leaders, and civil-society groups in their vigorous final push for Congress to ratify the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

But the world waits and watches, too. More than just a Philippine story, the 14-year advocacy of Filipinos for Congress to enact the law has become a serious concern of freedom of information advocates, scholars and members of parliament across the globe.

At noon today, over 130 groups under the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition will hold a motorcade from the University of the Philippines in Diliman to the House of Representatives to press lawmakers to ratify the Congress’s bicameral conference committee report on the FOI Act.

The motorcade participants will then join up with other FOI advocates who will assemble across the Old Batasan building starting 1 p.m., to await the arrival of House members for a session called by Speaker Prospero Nograles.

About FOI advocacy groups and 22 FOI advocates and scholars and members of parliament from Asia, Africa, America, Europe, and the Pacific Islands sent a stirring message: the world awaits the ratification of the Philippines’ FOI Act.

In a joint statement dated May 22, 2010, the FOI groups and advocates said that as the political leadership shifts from outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to winning presidential candidate Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the Congress must rush to ratify the measure.

The FOI Act, the groups said, “will no doubt put the Philippines solidly along the path of strong democracy and enhanced governance, and allow for the greater participation of all Filipinos in true nation-building.”

“In a few weeks, the Philippines will see a newly elected government formally proclaimed. We congratulate the Philippines for the orderly conduct of the recently concluded national elections,” the groups and advocates said.

However, “before the government is formally turned over to new leadership, there is one crucial act that we, organizations and individuals from around the world, would like to support your leadership on,” the groups said in their statement address to Arroyo, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Nograles.

This is none other than the adoption of the FOI Act, which is “fundamental to the respect of all human rights, as well as to democracy.” As well, “transparency in the public sector enables meaningful participation, promotes accountability, mitigates corruption, and contributes to the realization of personal and collective goals.”

“As advocates of freedom of expression, of the press, and of information, we have been following closely the Philippine movement for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act.

The signatories cited that Article III, Section 7 of the Philippine Constitution “guarantees this key right, and we understand that this constitutional guarantee has been used in the Philippines to give direct effect to this right.”

But, they added, ”experience around the world demonstrates that implementing legislation is needed to give full effect to the right, including by spelling out procedures for its exercise and by describing the exceptions in detail.”

“A historic piece of legislation” if enacted, the groups said the FOI Act of the Philippines will become just the third such law in Southeast Asia. Only Thailand and Indonesia have enacted a right to information law,” they said. “Should the Philippine push succeed, this will not only benefit Filipinos but will also provide direction and momentum to the whole Southeast Asia region.”

Well aware that for lack of time, “the window of opportunity for passing the FOI Act is fast closing,” the FOI groups and advocates exhorted Arroyo, Enrile and Nograles to take on their leadership roles to assure its passage.

“We join Philippine groups advocating for the passage of the FOI Act in looking to your leadership as President of the Republic, Senate President, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, to ensure the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report when Congress resumes session on 24 May, and the signing of the FOI Act into law by the President immediately thereafter, the groups said.

“The international movement for free expression, press freedom, and the right to information assure you of our support,” the groups said. “We are in solidarity with the Filipino people in anticipating your success in adopting the Freedom Information Act.”

The following groups and advocates signed the joint statement addressed to Arroyo, Enrile and Nograles:

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