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Despite failed promises on FOI bill, advocates continue to push for transparency

President Benigno Aquino (C) delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metro Manila, 27 July 2015. Also seen in photo, Senate president Franklin Drilon (L) and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.
President Benigno Aquino (C) delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metro Manila, 27 July 2015. Also seen in photo, Senate president Franklin Drilon (L) and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.

REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

This statement by the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition was originally published on cmfr-phil.org on 20 August 2015.

THE FOI Bill is dead. We put the blame squarely on President Aquino and the leadership of the House of Representatives.

FOI SIDE

From our years of campaigning for the passage of the FOI Act, this we know for certain: without decisive support from the President and the leadership of the House of Representatives, the bill will not pass.

Benigno S. Aquino III led us to believe that it will be different under his administration. On at least two occasions before he took his oath as President, he promised that the passage of the FOI bill will be among his administration's priorities. In 2011, his government also joined the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative led by the US that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to scale up transparency, accountability and public participation. We thought that he would see the urgency of passing the FOI Bill as an essential condition for Daang Matuwid.

Aquino is turning out to be no better than his predecessor on FOI. Now entering into the final months of his term, the Philippines remains the only one of the eight founding members of OGP that has not enacted an FOI Act. For all his administration's breast beating about transparency, President Aquino has not mustered the political will to honor his campaign pact with the people to assure the passage of FOI. Instead, early in his term, the promise of support turned into ever-mutating Presidential concerns over the FOI bill. Even after his concerns were addressed in the consolidated versions that emerged in Congress, we have not seen credible proof of his personal push for the measure.

The President's last SONA [State of the Nation address] was a perfect opportunity for him to show a determined and sincere effort to pass the FOI. But for the the sixth and final time, he chose not to do so. Instead, his spokespersons point to a single sentence on FOI buried in page 38 of the 43-page Budget Message. If it can be included in the budget message, why can't it be said openly for all to hear in the 2-hour-long SONA?

Not foreseeing decisive action from the President's camp, what is difficult enough to accomplish at the House of Representatives has become even harder. We are witness to Speaker Belmonte's repeated promises on FOI that is not matched by action. The Speaker, under the rules, is the political and administrative head of the House of Representatives. He is responsible for the overall management of the proceedings of the House. He is primarily responsible for preparing the legislative agenda for every regular session, with the view of ensuring the full deliberation and swift approval especially of priority measures. Yet on the ground the Speaker has not lifted a finger to give FOI a positive push. On the contrary, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales, the Speaker's chief enforcer, is already laying the basis for all excuses for FOI's non-passage. We can almost hear the tired and disingenuous refrain, "we tried our best, but we lacked time".

The Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition, in its more than 15 years of campaigning for the passage of the FOI Act, has held forums, issued statements, ran pooled editorials, participated actively in the legislative process, held mass actions, launched signature campaigns, held advocacy runs, filed its own bill by way of Indirect Initiative, produced information materials, initiated dialogues, and coordinated work with allies in Congress and the executive. We confront the reality that our institutions, particularly the Presidency and Congress, are not ready to overcome their selfish fears and take the side of public interest on the issue of FOI.

Under these circumstances, the coalition feels it unfair to continue to burden our House FOI champions with the expectation to take political risks in order to overcome the leadership's refusal to push for FOI. We thank them for their efforts to bring the FOI Bill to the point where it is clearly at the doorstep of the President and the House leadership. We will continue to provide assistance to them as best we could should they request for it, for whatever next moves they will decide to take.

While the FOI bill again meets its death in the hands of a President and a House leadership reluctant to redistribute power or too arrogant to heed our call, our fight for an effective, working, and living FOI, lives on. It may take a different form, emphasis and strategy, but its essence will remain the same: we assert the right to information as a fundamental mechanism in the struggle for a rights-based governance with greater transparency and accountability, less corruption, broader and informed peoples participation, and development outcomes that are sustainable and just.

For us this fight will now take the road of FOI Practice. In the past year, the coalition has already been systematizing the coordination and documentation of experience in our information requests relating to our respective advocacies. We will scale this up to include administrative and judicial interventions to address the problems that we thought Congress, with decisive push from the President, would address though a comprehensive and progressive legislation. In this fight we will also engage the constitutionally mandated independent accountability institutions, such as the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit, and the Ombudsman.

Lastly, we will use FOI Practice to bring to the surface the real cause why our politicians have defaulted, copped out, or resisted the passage of the FOI Act all this time. As a starting point, we are revisiting the 2007 to 2009 COA audit of PDAF. We demand that COA and the agencies that implemented the PDAF projects afford us access not just to the main audit report, but also to all the underlying paper trail to the transactions that COA has found anomalous, so that the people may fully see how we were defrauded of public funds.

Organizations:

Nepomuceno Malaluan
Co-Convener, Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition

Malou Mangahas
Executive Director, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Vincent Lazatin
Executive Director, Transparency and Acoountability Network

Annie Enriquez-Geron
President, Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK)

Melinda Quintos de Jesus
Executive Director, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

Josua Mata
Secretary General, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO)

Eirene Jhone Aguila
Chairperson, Aksyong Kabayanihan para sa Organisadong Pagbabago (ANGKOP)

Most Rev. Rolando J. Tria Tirona, OCD, DD
National Director, CBCP-Nassa

Sixto Donato C. Macasaet
Executive Director, Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO)
Isagani R. Serrano
President, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement

Leonor M. Briones
Lead Convenor, Social Watch Philippines

Ana Maria R. Nemenzo
National Coordinator, WomanHealth Philippines

Rene Magtubo
Chairperson, Partido ng Manggagawa

Max M. de Mesa
Chairperson, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)

Jenina Joy Chavez
Coordinator, Action for Economic Reforms – Industrial Policy Team

Gerry F. Rivera
President, PAL Employees Association (PALEA)

Rowena C. Paraan
Chairperson, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Samuel Cesar Gamboa
Secretary General, Freedom from Debt Coalition

Joseph Purugganan
Philippine Program Coordinator, Focus on the Global South

Elso Cabangon
Filipino Migrant Workers Group

Norman Cabrera
President, Ang Kapatiran Party

Rolando Ocampo
Prudentialife Warriors Pilipinas, Inc.

Ellene A. Sana
Executive Director, Center for Migrant Advocacy

Jaybee Garganera
National Coordinator, Alyansa Tigil Mina

Aida F. Santos
President, Women's Education, Development, Productivity & Research Organization (WeDpro), Inc.

Red Batario, Executive Director; Adelina Sevilla Alvarez, Program Director
Center for Community Journalism and Development

Sonny Melencio
Chairperson, Partido Lakas ng Masa-PLM

Michael Cagulada
Executive Director, Group Foundation, Inc. (Cagayan de Oro City)

Merci L. Angeles
President, Peace Women Partners, Inc.

Corazon Fabros
Co-Convener, STOP the War Coalition, Philippines

Ricardo Reyes
Katarungan

Individuals:

Gregorio T. Mariano, Jr.
Member, US Pinoys for Good Governance; Member, Global Filipino Nation

Floro R. Francisco
Regional Consultant (Asia), LO-Norway

Walter I. Balane
Chair, Piniyalan 2013-2016 Reporting Governance Project; Acting Station Manager, DXBU-Bukidnon State University radio; President, Bukidnon Press Club

Ma. Victoria R. Raquiza
Assistant Professor, National College of Public Administration and Governance, UP

Buenaventura B. Dargantes
Professor of Socio-ecology, Visayas State University

Dino Manrique
Member, #ScrapPork Network (SPN)

Louie Checa Montemar
Faculty member, Political Science Department, De La Salle University

Ma. Aurora Quilala
National Advocacy Officer, PLCPD

Cesar Guarin
Convener, Takbo Na! Pilipinas

Clarissa V. Militante
Writer

Fr. Robert Reyes

Mercedes L. Fabros

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
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