Journos call for inclusion of FOI in Sona

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Sunday, July 27, 2014


MEMBERS of the local and national media in the country are hoping that President Benigno Simeon Aquino III will include the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in his fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona) speech today, Monday.

Although doubtful, Rowena Paraan, National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) chair, is still optimistic that Aquino will have his take on the People's FOI in his speech.

"We really want to hear something about the FOI sa Sona," Paraan said.

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"With enough pressure from the public, I hope that he will give importance to this."

Paraan told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro Sunday afternoon by phone that the NUJP has gathered 30,000 signatures in Metro Manila alone and these were sent to Malacañang last Tuesday to give strength to their call.

Rochamae Bihag, College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Mindanao vice president, said she also wanted the president to update his "boss" with the FOI although she is also doubtful of its approval.

"I'm skeptical that he will mention the FOI given the status quo of the government which is not into transparency for now," Bihag said.

Paraan said the FOI's immediate passage will pave way to a better government.

"Nagmamadali kami (We are in a hurry). Ito ang best na panahon na ma-approve ang FOI para sa campaign against corruption," she furthered.

"Citizens will learn to participate and get involved in government matters. Ngayon na dapat isabatas ang bill na ito (The enactment of this bill into a law should be now)."

Pacifico Estore Jr., NUJP-Bukidnon chairman, agreed with the urgent need to pass the bill.

"This [FOI] has to pass since this is for the people, not only for the journalists or any concerned individuals but for the citizens, too," said Estore.

Senate Bill no. 1733 or the People's Freedom of Information bill was passed in the Senate on March 3 with 21 affirmative votes from all senators present during the session.

Senator Grace Poe, the bill's sponsor and chairperson of the Senate Committee on People's Public Information and Mass Media, told the press this measure aims to eradicate corruption in the bureaucracy by opening government transactions to the public and holding government officials accountable for their actions.

Under this bill, Filipinos will be granted access to records or information that is under the control of government, subject to reasonable exceptions.

Once enacted into law, the FOI bill will require government officials to act or comply with the request for information within 15 working days. These include information that would jeopardize national security, law enforcement operations, trade and economic secrets, foreign relations, privileged information as considered judicial proceedings or information made in executive sessions of Congress and those covered by presidential privilege.

FOI-complaint websites will be required to all government agencies two years after the law takes into effect.

Government officers who will violate this law will be criminally and administratively liable with penalties ranging from suspension or dismissal from service to imprisonment of not less than a month but not more than six months.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 28, 2014.

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