Press release – Action for Economic Reforms – 22 January 2013

Civil society groups involved in the sin tax, reproductive health and extractive industry transparency have come out openly to support the passage of the freedom of information bill (FOI).

Speaking for Action for Economic Reforms, a lead civil society group in the successful campaign for the sin tax reform, senior economist Jo-Ann Latuja called on Speaker Belmonte to use his political leadership to have the FOI bill passed in the Lower House.

“We are hoping Speaker Belmonte will facilitate the passage of FOI in the same way that he instructed Congress to overwhelmingly approve the Abaya sin tax bill in Congress,” said Ms. Latuja.

Ms. Latuja said that the FOI will “help the effective enforcement of the sin tax bill.” Government and civil society alike have to monitor the earmarking of the funds for tobacco farmers and for universal health care. An enabling law on access to information will make it easier for the public to track the spending of the huge earmarked funds. The sin tax is expected to generate additional 33 billion pesos, which will be used mainly for health and secondarily for tobacco farmers.

Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio of Likhaan, a lead civil society group that helped in the passage of the reproductive health (RH) law, said that access to information by having the law on FOI is also crucial for the implementation of the RH law.

She said, “The RH law is about giving the people, especially the women, a choice. People can make correct choices or will be aware of the consequences of their choices if information is made available to them.”

She added: “The FOI promotes a culture of openness or transparency in the bureaucracy, which in turn, will benefit citizens who wish to get information and education related to RH from the government.”

In a separate statement, Ms. Cielo Magno, the executive director of Bantay Kita, a national civil society coalition made up of more than 80 organizations that monitors revenues in the extractive industries and which is represented in the multi-stakeholder group for the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) said that a law on freedom of information “is a necessary component of EITI, and it is the key to the EITI’s success.”
Ms. Magno also said that the EITI international community will laud a law on access to information, which “will complement EITI.”

Hearing the news about the support from civil society organizations involved in other issues like sin tax, RH and EITI, Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that this development is a big boost for the FOI campaign, and she is hoping the House leadership will heed the call from a broad segment of civil society and the private sector.

Before this, the business community led by the Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines and the foreign business chambers have also urged Congress to pass the FOI bill.