Various stakeholders launch signature drive for passage

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014


CIVIL society groups nationwide are putting more pressure on the Aquino administration to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill in a bid to promote transparency in government transactions and data.

In a “Tayo na para sa FOI” forum, members of the academe, student groups, media, law groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) yesterday simultaneously signed a petition urging President Benigno Aquino III and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to “exercise leadership and act decisively to pass the FOI Bill.”

Coordinated campaign

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Members of the Right to Know, Right Now (R2KRN) Coalition also launched a coordinated campaign at the University of the Philippines in Manila.

“We need a law that will give life to the right of citizens to request and be given access to government information beyond what government chooses to disclose proactively,” said R2KRN co-convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan in a statement.

The Senate passed on third and final reading Senate Bill 1733, or the People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2013, last March.

The bill, if enacted into law, intends to give the public easier access to information from government agencies.

It is also supposed to define more clearly the limits to the right of access to information to prevent arbitrary denial of access.

But the FOI bill has stalled in the committee level of the House of Representatives since the Senate counterpart of the bill failed to pass in Congress.

Pressure on P-Noy

In the statement, R2KRN’s Malaluan said President Aquino won on a platform of transparency and clean government, thus “gave us high hopes that the time for the realization of an FOI law has come.”

But with only a little more than two years remaining in Aquino’s term, Malaluan said the FOI Bill remains pending at the Congress’ committee level.

“An FOI law responds to this by clarifying the scope of and exceptions to available information by providing the definite procedure for requesting and being given access to information and by imposing administrative or criminal liability for the violation of a citizen’s right to information,” he said.

The petition will be sent to the President and Belmonte a week before the President’s State of the Nation Address this month.

Mhafe del Mundo, of the Caucus of Development NGO Networks, said the public should put pressure on the Aquino administration to sign the bill into law.

“In our own ways, big or small, we can cause the passage of the FOI bill,” she told participants of the forum.

Benefiting all

Lawyer Rose Versoza, who is also a member of the Cebu Media Legal Aid, said the passage of the bill will benefit not just journalists, but also ordinary citizens.

If signed into law, the bill will also provide “clear, uniform, and speedy procedure” for access to information, including a quick and certain period of compliance.

It also provides the government agencies’ manner of making and responding to requests for access to information—except when they threaten national security or when their release will compromise anti-crime operations.

Information may also be held if its release will endanger the safety of a protected source, witness, law enforcement or military officer.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 02, 2014.

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