FOI advocates to Palace: Delays could kill FOI bill

STATEMENT OF THE RIGHT TO KNOW, RIGHT NOW! COALITION

On Malacanang’s creation of inter-agency committee to draft FOI bill version

1 March 2011

PRESIDENTIAL Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda has announced the creation  of an inter-agency team tasked with “the drafting of the Freedom of Information  Bill as far as the executive branch is concerned.”

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.

Already, majority of the bills filed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate Houses has been built on the bicameral conference committee version that needed only the ratification by the House of Representatives in the 14th Congress – as penultimate step before it is transmitted to the President for approval. But the sudden death of the FOI bill had been told and retold – it was killed by deceit, a sheer miscounting of the number of legislators present on the floor on the last session day of the House.

In the present Congress, committee hearings have already been conducted in both Houses. We note that representatives of Executive agencies have been invited to these hearings, and many of them have dutifully submitted their comments in writing.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Erin Tañada as chairman of the technical working group has circulated a draft of the proposed consolidation of the bills, which has been further refined
precisely to address the reported concerns of some officials from Malacañang and other executive agencies.

Finally, we would like to stress what should have been a basic premise of Malacañang’s decision to enroll two bills on whistleblower protection among the priority bills it has submitted to the Joint Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.  A good, effective and vigorous FOI bill is logically both predicate and framework law to any whistleblower protection act.

In light of the foregoing, we humbly submit that instead of drafting its own bill, Malacañang would do well to adopt a more straightforward and good-faith approach by directing its inter-agency team to adopt Representative Tañada’s proposed consolidation bill as its reference
point. It can then identify specifically what changes it still proposes to make and subject these proposals to public consultations and dialogue.

We likewise appeal to the inter-agency team to formally convene at the soonest possible time, and announce a transparent and time-bound process for its study and recommendations. We emphasize the need for a fairly quick timeframe for the review. While the incumbent President has a term of six years, the 15th Congress only has a term of three years. Our long experience in campaigning for this measure tells us that every day of delay compromises the prospects for the
bill’s passage, and makes it easier for adverse forces to kill the measure. This is our painful lesson from the 14th Congress.

Lastly, we express our trust that the Senate and the House of  Representatives will continue to advance the legislative process on FOI and  bring their respective committee reports to plenary well before the end of their first regular session. We note that doing so does not foreclose the introduction of Malacañang amendments in plenary.

RIGHT TO KNOW, RIGHT NOW! COALITION

To see the full text of the statement and the list of members of the coalition, please click here.

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