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FOI advocates to Palace: Delays could kill FOI bill

We in the Right to Know, Right Now! (RTKRN) Coalition recognize Malacañang’s prerogative to closely examine the proposed Freedom of Information Bill that has been the focus of our 15-year advocacy work in four Philippine Congresses in succession. Indeed, while the bill covers all branches and levels of government, the implementation of an FOI law will rest mainly on the executive as the biggest generator and custodian of information. We envision an FOI law that will be a living document and effective norm of transparency in government, and in achieving this, no less than clear and solid support from the Executive is a critical factor. Toward this end, we have time and again expressed our readiness for dialogue to address whatever concerns some officials in the Executive branch reportedly continue to harbor about the FOI bill.

We fear, however, that Malacañang’s enunciated approach of drafting its own FOI bill could simply throw a monkey wrench into its long-overdue legislation. For one, it sends a signal to the Congress to slow down on the legislative process because Malacañang has yet to start crafting its version. For another, Malacañang’s lack of decisive support for FOI has been interpreted by many sectors as clear resistance, in fact, to the measure. This can only embolden opponents of the bill in Congress. Additionally, Malacañang’s approach could result in a bill that may have far less to offer in terms of substance and structure, or even as confused as the initial yield of memorandum circulars from the Palace.

President Aquino Disappoints on FOI

The final words of General Angelo Reyes, as reported by Malou Mangahas of PCIJ, sum up the systemic and deep-rooted nature of corruption in the Philippines: “I did not invent corruption. I walked into it…. No system is perfect. The AFP system needs a lot of systemic solutions…And the same might be true of some other institutions.”

General Reyes himself identified one of the needed systemic solutions, that is, the reform of the justice system. He said: “(J)ustice can be served if laws are applied evenly and well – not favoring the rich and powerful…. The fight to reform the system and the entire country must continue; the sad part is that they are selectively targeting individuals and institutions.”

Another systemic solution, we submit, is the passage of the Freedom of Information Act. It will work two ways. On the part of government officials and employees, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s captures it precisely when he observed: “I think that if we do this, our desire for a more straightforward and honest government will be accomplished, because then people will have to be very, very careful and circumspect in performing their work in government, in transacting their official business, and in spending the money of the people.” On the part of citizens, it will empower them to look closely into government transactions from the highest to the lowest levels of government.

FOI Critical in Addressing Corruption

Amid an ongoing congressional investigation on deep-rooted corruption in the military, we appeal to President Aquino to reconsider inclusion of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill in his list of legislative priorities. This should send the strongest signal to the country and the world that he remains truly committed to his anti-corruption agenda.

We cannot overemphasize the role that an FOI law will play in transforming government culture. As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile observed when he explained the Senate’s commitment to the measure in the last Congress: “I think that if we do this, our desire for a more straightforward and honest government will be accomplished, because then people will have to be very, very careful and circumspect in performing their work in government, in transacting their official business, and in spending the money of the people.”

Tax Advocacy Toolkit

While some pioneering civil society groups have long been campaigning for fairer tax systems, the critical role of tax in achieving development and social justice has often been neglected by civil society in the North and the South. For many, tax is a complex topic, best left to ‘experts’. But this need not be the case.

Tax may appear technical, but it is an issue too critical to bypass. Fair and effective tax collection is essential for raising the revenue to deliver services that citizens need. It is a powerful tool for redistributing wealth within society to address poverty and inequality. And tax is the glue that builds accountability of governments to their citizens.

The toolkit is not intended to be read from cover to cover in one sitting. It is designed to allow you to dip in and read the sections that are most relevant to your level of experience and knowledge, your interests and your context. We hope there’s some useful material here for everyone and that it inspires you to take forward, or start, your tax justice advocacy. Around the world, organisations and networks are demanding tax justice in growing numbers. Together we can create a sea change in tax policy that genuinely benefits those living in poverty and creates a more equitable distribution of resources, North and South.

Appeal for Inclusion of the Passage of the Freedom of Information Act in the President’s Priority Measures for consideration by LEDAC

We look to your leadership, in cooperation with Congress through the LEDAC, to secure for the country an enabling legal environment for transparency. We make this appeal fully aware of your appreciation of the value of a Freedom of Information Act in promoting good governance, transparency and accountability, and responsive government services.

Mr. President, please heed the people’s call for a Freedom of Information Act now.

Addressing the Concerns on the Proposed Freedom of Information Act

After years of Congressional inaction, the proposed Freedom of Information advanced significantly in the 14th Congress and almost reached passage when it was unanimously approved by the bicameral conference committee. Unfortunately, while the Senate ratified the bicameral conference report, the House of Representatives failed to do the same, and the measure will have to go through the legislative mill again in the 15th Congress.