A Righteous Path Demands FOI
There is something very wrong when a proposed legislation that will do right to the people does not get the determined support of government leaders who are sworn to protect the people’s interest.
All sectors support, and demand, the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. This is rightly so. In entrusting to our government officials the power to govern, the people have the right to protect themselves against all forms of abuses by the use of governmental power.
The Social Action arm of the Catholic Church, the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA), takes special interest in the fate that will befall the FOI bill in the 15th Congress. More than a general right, there is a strong justice aspect in FOI.
Lack of access to public information systematically subjects our marginalized sectors – farmers, fisherfolks, Indigenous peoples, workers and rural and urban poor, particularly the Basic Ecclesial Communities – to become vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by bad elements in our society. Unfamiliarity and ignorance of government processes, contracts, activities and services, together with lack of formal education cause deprivation of rights and poverty. Our people then become mere objects of government policies rather than active participants in their own development.
Without access to information, the people are kept in the dark. They remain unaware of the projects and contracts the national and local governments make for them. Our people then eventually tend to develop distrust in government institutions and activities.
The passage and enforcement of FOI would be a great service to the people. It will empower the people, especially the poor, with a new tool of information, which will promote social justice by giving the opportunity for social auditing towards the pursuit of the common good.
It thus saddens many of us that the 15th Congress is about to finish its term, but the FOI bill remains as it has been in previous Congresses: a mere promise.
We did not expect the FOI bill to go this familiar route at the start of the term of President Aquino. While the composition of the 15th Congress is practically the same as that of the 14th Congress that killed the FOI bill, advocates had looked to the President as the game changer for FOI. His promise as a candidate for president that the passage of the FOI bill will be among his legislative priorities was a source of hope that the FOI bill will finally become law.
President Aquino, however, upon his assumption into office, has sent mixed signals on the FOI. It took him awhile to endorse amendments to address a number of concerns on the bill that he has raised, but that endorsement has not carried with it the same stamp of urgency that has characterized other measures that he has supported vigorously. Even now, with few session days left in the 15th Congress when his certification can truly make a difference, he has refused to give the FOI bill the prioritization that it needs. This is so surprising since he espouses good governance and transparency. Is he serious in his daang matuwid, or is it just another slogan? What is he afraid of? That the people may know what government is doing?
Still, there is time, and we join the different sectors who continue to push for the passage of the FOI bill.
In the spirit of truth and justice, CBCP-NASSA calls upon the House of Representatives, with or without the certification of urgency from President Aquino, to act on the FOI bill. Needless to say, President Aquino can choose to make a difference by certifying the urgency of the FOI bill.
In calling for the FOI to become a law, we are asking for nothing else than to fulfil the mandate of our constitution. If citizens do not fulfil the law they are penalized. But if lawmakers do not fulfil the highest law of the land, what is to be done to them?
The May 2013 election is just around the corner. Once again, the President and his candidates under his Liberal Party-led coalition will aspire to seek a fresh mandate, emphasizing that his coalition symbolizes good governance, accountability and transparency. But this assertion would indeed lack credibility if the FOI Act will remain a pipe dream for us Filipinos.
+ BRODERICK S. PABILLO, D.D.
CBCP Caritas Filipinas Foundation, Inc.
National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace
18 January 2013