07 November 2012

Ateneo Sanggunian: A Call for the Immediate Passage of the Freedom of Information Bill

We, the Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral, as the sole autonomous student government of the Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Schools, express our support for the immediate passage of the Freedom of Information Bill in Congress. We recognize the fervent need to safeguard the right to protect the citizen’s right to access information pertaining to government documents to ensure transparency and accountability.

The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, forged in the flames of the EDSA Revolution, in the interest of a more democratic, transparent, and free government, guarantees the right of Filipino citizens to full public disclosure and access to public documents. Says Section 7 of the Constitution, 

Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.

However, this right has been stymied, without exact legal definition to what these public documents are, without any act of policy legislating the punishment of government officials who fail to disclose these documents without due cause, and without concern to what this act was meant to foment—a more accountable government more committed to the cause of freedom.

As a result, the media, the Fourth Estate tasked with guarding our freedom from the corrupt practices of unscrupulous individuals, is rendered helpless by the lack of legislation. Government officials are able to hide behind a curtain of invisibility and of skirting around the law. This is why statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth of public officials are often inaccessible, and why proper investigation of corruption charges have yielded few results, among others. The fear of corrupt practices being disclosed to the public has become diminished by this sorry state of affairs.

A nation that proclaims herself to be the torch of Asian democracy does not deserve this kind of injustice.

For fourteen years, many initiatives on freedom of information have run their course in the legislative process. Four years ago, the House of Representatives had already taken a step toward Freedom of Information legislation by discussing H.R. 3732, the Freedom of Information Act, but these efforts were stalled in Congress. Today, the Aquino administration and the 15th Philippine Congress are pushing for the legislation but many obstacles, then as now, remain.

Some have expressed doubts on the proposed legislation, saying that this will provide an avenue for profligate individuals to start using the law for libelous purposes. Others believe that our national security and foreign interests are compromised by this bill.

We, the Sanggunian, call public officials and others afraid of the disclosure provided for in this legislation to avoid misrepresenting the policy of this Act. Concerns about the disclosure of documents pertaining to national defense, security, among other sensitive information, we believe, are already provided for in the bill, in Section 6, on Exemptions. Protections against misuse of information have already been provided for and debated upon. No longer can the passage of this bill, after over fifteen years of consideration, be halted.

We believe that even the most vile of accusations easily crumble in the face of the truth. Allowing public documents to be released to ordinary citizens, in turn, allows the nation to keep government officials honest, for the facts shall speak for themselves.

We believe that for our nation to prosper as a democracy, as the first Filipino revolutionaries and reformers had envisioned it, we must strive for freedom of information. We, the Sanggunian, shall stand, to protect this fundamental right.

The Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila is a partner organization of the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI).

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