The Right to Know. Right Now! Campaign, a network of over 100 organizations and coalitions comprising public-interest groups, environmental protection advocates, independent media groups, print and broadcast journalists, farmers organizations and support groups, women’s organizations, private and public sector labor unions, migrant workers, businessmen, academic institutions, and student and youth organizations, trooped to the Senate last 14 December 17, 2009 to thank the Senate for passing the Freedom of Information bill (Senate Bill 3308) on second reading, and to sustain the momentum for its passage on third reading.
The Senate again did not disappoint. By noon, the eight hundred-strong contingent got welcome news. Voting 12-0, the Senate passed the bill on final reading. Meeting the rallyists after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the sponsors of the bill, said that the law promoting the right of the people to access information on matters of public concern is within grasp. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, head of the Committee of Public Information, emphasized the critical contribution that the measure will play in improving transparency in government. Representative Erin Tañada, who played a key role in the passing the Lower House’s version, gave his continuing commitment to work for the bicameral approval of the bill at the soonest.
The next hurdle for Freedom of Information is for the Senate and the House of Representatives to convene a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the Senate and House versions. Time is fast closing out on the 14th Congress. We count only 9 session days left when Congress resumes session on January 18 next year and before it adjourns for the elections on February 5.
Freedom of Information will expand citizens’ rights and ensure people’s participation in governance. Once the people begin using their rights under this law, there is greater chance to compel government to move from shady dealings to transparent decision-making, from backroom negotiations to open policy debates, and from a situation where citizens are kept in the dark to one where they are informed of issues affecting their lives.
Shots taken at the Senate during December 14, 2009 rally: