05 November 2012

Carpe diem! Seize the day!

A little over three months ago, Speaker Belmonte uttered these words to summon his colleagues in the House of Representatives to work harder and faster on bills pending in the chamber, not least of them the FOI (Freedom of Information) bill. This clarion call may well be addressed not only to the House, but to the Senate, the Executive, and the public as well.

Starting Nov. 5, the FOI bill enters a most critical stage. There would only be 35 working days left before Congress again adjourns on December 21. Session will resume for only 15 working days next year from January 21 to February 8, after which legislative work virtually grinds to a halt to give way to the campaign for the May 13, 2013 elections.

While time is running out, the FOI bill can still take a different path than it did under the 14th Congress of Speaker Prospero Nograles and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, if only the House of Representatives, the Senate, and President Benigno S. Aquino III will take decisive action now.

At the House of Representatives, the first hurdle will be for the Committee on Public Information to approve a committee report when it meets on Tuesday, November 13.

After the bill passes the Committee on November !3, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. must be able to lead the House in approving the bill before it adjourns on December 22.

At the Senate, the progress of the FOI bill has slowed down despite the strong stated commitment to its passage by the Senate leadership and FOI champions. After Senator Gregorio Honasan II sponsored the FOI committee report before the Senate plenary last 4 June, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, a key champion of the FOI bill, has not found an opportunity to deliver his co-sponsorship speech that would pave the way for the period of interpellation on the bill.

We hope Senator Cayetano delivers his co-sponsorship speech at the soonest, and Senator Honasan shepherds the bill through interpellations and approval in plenary also before the December 22 adjournment.

Only an approval of the FOI bill on second and third reading in both Houses before adjournment on December 22 will allow it to go through bicameral conference committee in time for ratification when session resumes in January.

While the primary burden for passing the FOI law rests with Congress, there is no denying the critical factor that Malacañang’s unequivocal support will play in getting this landmark measure through. Even as we acknowledge Malacañang’s endorsement of an amended FOI bill in Congress in February this year, the hands-off position that Malacañang has since taken on the bill is regarded by no less than House Committee Chairman Ben Evardone as a signal to prevent the advance of the measure.

In an interview in the television program Failon Ngayon last August, Evardone gave the following explanation for his earlier inaction on the FOI bill:

“Hindi naman ako ang pumipigil personal. Ako, matagal ko nang gustong ilabas yan dito sa committee ko eh dahil ako nga ang nabubugbog sa media. Eh dati pa akong taga media. Eh hindi naman puwedeng ako lang mag-decide n’yan, siyempre. Eh ito pang issue na napaka-sensitibo, napaka-controversial, at hindi naman priority ng ating Pangulo, kasi wala doon sa legislative agenda na sinubmit sa atin, wala doon sa SONA, although binanggit ng ating Speaker na isa yan sa mga kung baga dapat na pagbigyan ng priority.”

Evardone added:

“But there is no party stand. Is there a party stand of the Liberal Party? There is none! Kung merong party stand ang Liberal Party, no problem, ako I toe the line.”

With Evardone openly and publicly blaming President Aquino and his party for the delay in the passage of the FOI Act, we must hear from the President and LP reformers to refute Evardone, and take an unambiguous support for the FOI bill’s passage as they do on other measures such as the sin tax bill.

On our part we see the roadblocks to the passage of the FOI law as a challenge to strengthen our resolve to push for the immediate passage of the FOI law.

The importance of passing the FOI Act is acknowledged by the highest leaders of our country.

In his speech before the Makati Business Club – Management Association of the Philippines joint membership meeting on 19 November 2010, Speaker Belmonte emphasized that “the drive against corruption requires a comprehensive approach that includes enhancing law enforcement, increasing prosecutorial success, and establishing a culture of transparency in government.” He identified the FOI bill as among the legislative proposals being studied towards such ends.

Senate President Enrile provided a keen insight into the impact of passing the FOI Act, in his speech at the opening of the third regular session of the 15th Congress last July 23. He said:

“The benefits of transparency are mutually advantageous to civil society and government. The vigilance of our citizens becomes the standard (on) which our public leaders will be measured. Transparency parts the curtains of corruption and illegal practices. In turn, accountability, will refine decision-making, and make leadership and public institutions more responsive and efficient.”

Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad, in a statement released when he submitted Malacañang’s endorsed version of the FOI bill to the House last February, said that it is essential in the Aquino administration’s governance and anti-corruption plan:

“President Aquino believes that we can curb corruption more successfully and strengthen public institutions if citizens are given greater access to official information. Moreover, freedom of information—limited only by a few legitimate areas of confidentiality—will empower the people to hold their leaders accountable and get actively involved in governance.”

Time is of the essence to maximize the FOI law’s full potential in fighting corruption and ingraining the culture of transparency and accountability in government. If we again wait for the next Congress to pass the FOI law, there would be very limited time to ensure its proper and effective implementation that we hope an anti-corruption administration can ensure. One key lesson from anti-corruption efforts is that we are weakest in implementation.

Also, passing the FOI law now will reinforce the political statement that the fight against corruption applies equally to all. It will no doubt make a difference in the landscape of the anti-corruption efforts of government, which used to put political survival at the forefront while key measures are made to wait in order to manage politics.

We will not accept a non-passage of the FOI bill in the 15th Congress!

As part of our continuing expression of our collective demand for the immediate passage of the FOI bill, we shall peaceably assemble in Mendiola on 12 November 2012, and call on President Aquino as well as the leaders and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, to honor their promise to pass the Freedom of Information Act.
Signed (5 November 2012):

1. Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan
Co-Director, Institute for Freedom of Information and
Co-Convenor, Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition

2. Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo, DD
Chairman, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA)

3. Ms. Malou Mangahas
Executive Director, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

4. Ms. Annie Geron
General Secretary, Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK)

5. Mr. Vincent Lazatin
Executive Director, Transparency and Accountability Network

6. Prof. Luis Teodoro
Deputy Director, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

7. Mr. Josua Mata
Secretary General, Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)

8. Ms. Yuen Abana
Campaign Coordinator, Partido ng Manggagawa

9. Ms. Clarissa V. Militante
Coordinator, Focus on the Global South, Philippines Programme

10. Mr. Jun Aguilar
Mr. Elso Cabangon
Filipino Migrant Workers Group

11. Mr. Max M. De Mesa
Chairperson, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)

12. Mr. Ramon R. Tuazon, President
Dr. ?Florangel Rosario-Braid, President Emeritus & Senior Adviser
Ms. Madeline B. Quiamco, Dean
Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication

13. Atty. Roberto Eugenio Cadiz
Executive Director, Libertás

14. Mr. Alwyn Alburo, Vice Chairman
Ms. Rowena Paraan, Secretary-General
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

15. Prof. Leonor M. Briones
Lead Covenor, Social Watch Philippines

16. Ms. Maxine Tanya Hamada
Executive Director, International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov)

17. Mr. Norman Cabrera, Secretary General
Mr. John Carlos G. de los Reyes, Candidate for Senator (2013)
Mr. Rizalito Y. David, Candidate for Senator (2013)
Atty. Marwil Llasos, Candidate for Senator (2013)
Mr. Carlos Cabochan, Candidate for Representative, 2nd District of Caloocan City (2013)
Mr. Harry Tambuatco, Candidate for Representative, Lone district of Muntinlupa city (2013)
Mr. Edilberto M. Cuenca, Candidate for Representative, 1st District of Makati City (2013)
Mr. Frank Reyes, Candidate for Representative, Lone District of Mandaluyong City (2013)
Ang Kapatiran Party

18. Atty Eirene Jhone Aguila
FOI and New Politics Advocate

19. Ms. Joy Aceron
Program Director, Government Watch/ PODER, Ateneo School of Government

20. Dr. Segundo Romero
Program Director, Ateneo School of Government

21. Mr. Bong Fabe
Freelance journalist

22. Ms. Jenina Joy Chavez
Southeast Asia Monitor for Action

23. Dr. Joseph Anthony Lim
Professor, Economics Department, Ateneo De Manila University

24. Dr. J. Prospero de Vera
Professor, UPNCPAG
Executive Director, Pimentel Institute for Leadership and Governance

25. Atty. Risa Halagueña
Fellow, Action for Economic Reforms

26. Sr. Cres Lucero, SFIC, Co-Chairperson
Mr. Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines

27. Atty. Corazon Valdez Fabros
Lead Convenor, Stop the War Coalition Philippines

28. Ms. Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, National Coordinator
Ms. Mercy Fabros, Advocacy and Campaign Coordinator
Ms. May-i Fabros, Coordinator of Young Women Collective
Ms. Rosheic Sims, Assistant Coordinator of Young Women Collective
WomanHealth Philippines

29. Mr. Rolando Ocampo
Spokesperson, Prudentialife Warriors/Movement for Change and Good Governance

30. Ms. Cielo Magno
Coordinator, Bantay Kita

31. Mr. Red Batario, Executive Director
Ms. G. Sevilla Alvarez, Program Director
Center for Community Journalism and Development

32. Mr. Isagani R. Serrano
President, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement

33. Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio
Director, University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Studies.

34. Ms. Jessica Reyes-Cantos
Lead Convenor, Rice Watch and Action Network

35. Mr. Jaybee Garganera,
National Coordinator, Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)

36. Mr. Jong Pacanot
Secretary General, Freedom from Debt Coalition – Southern Mindanao

37. Ms. Evita L. Jimenez
Executive Director, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)

38. Ms. Andrea Maria Patricia Sarenas
Chairperson, Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks (MINCODE)

39. Fr. Albert E. Alejo, SJ
Ehem Anticorruption Program

40. Mr. Jason Alacapa
Chairperson, University Student Council (UPM USC), UP Manila

41. Ms. Jean Enriquez
Executive Director, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific

42. Dr. Nymia Pimentel Simbulan
Executive Director, PhilRights

43. Atty. Ray Paolo J. Santiago
Executive Director, Ateneo Human Rights Center

44. Ms. Zenaida S. Mique
Executive Director, Claimants 1081

45. Ms. Marjorie Anne Yoro
Suprema, UP Kabataang Pilosopo Tasyo (KaPiTas), UP Diliman

46. Ms. Moses Albiento
Chairperson, Alliance of Student Leaders (ASL), Ateneo de Manila University

47. Mr. Joseph Angelo Gutierrez
Chairperson, Movement of Students for Progressive Leadership in UP (MOVE UP), UP Los Baños

48. Mr. Tristan Daine Zinampan
Chairperson, Linking Everyone Towards Service CDC (LETS CDC), College of Development Communication, UP Los Baños

49. Ms. Mary Ann Fuertes
Executive Director, Interface Development Interventions, Inc. (Davao City)

50. Atty. Arvin A. Jo
Focal Person, The Access Initiative – Philippines

51. Ms. April Lamentillo
Supremo, Sandigan ng mga Iskolar para sa Nagkakaisang CAS (SINAG CAS), College of Arts and Sciences, UP Los Baños

52. Mr. Curt Russel Lopez Delfin
President, Metro Manila Alliance of Communication Students (MACS)

53. Mr. John Mark Salvador
President, Bagong Benilde, De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde

54. Mr. Van Battad
President, UP Sirkulo ng mga Kabataang Artista (SIKAT), UP Diliman

55. Ms. Luisa Lioanag
Bos Tsip-Tsip, UP Bukluran sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Buklod-Isip), UP Diliman

56. Ms. Starjoan Villanueva
Executive Director, Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao

57. Mr. Joseph Purugganan
Coordinator, EU-ASEAN FTA Network

58. Ms. Patricza Torio
Tagapangulo, UP Lipunang Pangkasaysayan (LIKAS), UP Diliman

59. Ms. Marian Bahalla
Chairperson, Laban COC Party, College of Communication, Polytechnic University of the Philippines

60. Mr. Arjay Mercado
President, UP Economics Towards Consciousness (ETC), UP Diliman

61. Mr. Joshua Layog
Primer, Katipunan CHE, College of Human Ecology, UP Los Baños

62. Ms. Ema Escanilla
Speaker, UP People-Oriented Leadership in the Interest of Community Awareness (UP POLITICA), UP Diliman

63. Mr. Edward Dayog
President, UP Organization of Human Rights Advocates (OHRA), UP Diliman

64. Mr. JC Tejano
National Chairperson, Bukluran ng mga Progresibong Iskolar – UP System (BUKLURAN – UP SYSTEM)

65. Ms. Ara Tan
President, UP Kalipunan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Sosyolohiya (KMS), UP Diliman

66. Mr. Ace Ligsay
Chairperson, UP Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA), UP Diliman

67. Mr. Mickey Eva
President, Coalition for Students’ Rights and Welfare (STRAW Coalition)

68. Mr. Carlo Brolagda, Chairperson
Mr. Chris Alquizalas, Councilor
College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Student Council (CSSPSC), UP Diliman / Convenors, FOI Youth Initiative (FYI)

69. Mr. Joshua Young
Chairperson, Bigkis ng mga Iskolar Para sa Bayan Tungo sa Makabuluhang Pagbabago – UPM (BIGKIS-UPM), UP Manila

70. Mr. Viko Fumar
President, BUKLOD CSSP, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, UP Diliman

71. Julliano Fernando A. Guiang
Councilor, University Student Council, UP Diliman
Convenor, Disclose All Records (DARe) Movement

72. Mr. Deg Daupan
President, Alternatibong Katipunan ng mga Mag-aaral (AKMA), UP Baguio

73. Mr. Walter Tamayo
History Department Representative, AngKAS (CSSP History Department Core Group), UP Diliman

74. Mr. Gio Alejo
President, Sanggunian ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila, Ateneo de Manila University

75. Mr. Jose Valencia
President, KASAPI Kaisahan ng Migranteng Manggagawa sa Gresya