14 November 2012

Our struggle for a transparent and accountable government continues

Statement of the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) after the committee hearing on the Freedom of Information Bill last 13 November 2012.

Yesterday, we witnessed a devastating blow to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill carried out by no less than the Chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, together with the avid proponent of the anti-press freedom Right of Reply provision, Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino.

Rep. Antonino who repetitively made queries and manifestations about the non-inclusion of his Right of Reply provision, despite being sufficiently answered by FOI Bill principal author Rep. Erin Tañada, effectively ate up the time that was meant to be for the approval of the consolidated measure. Rep. Tañada succinctly responded to Rep. Antonino’s continuous badgering by telling him that the Right of Reply provision, which allows politicians to be given space to defend themselves in reports that are based on information obtained through the FOI Law, is a controversial component that needed to be discussed in the mother committee and not in a technical working group. Unfortunately, the Committee on Public Information failed to call any hearing during the past year in order for this to be addressed.

The FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) was present in the committee hearing, together with our fellow member organizations and individuals from the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition. We, young leaders who desire nothing but a government that upholds transparency and accountability, bore witness to the murder of our FOI Bill in the 15th Congress. The kind of ‘leadership’ shown by Rep. Evardone in yesterday’s hearing renders this important piece of legislation as good as dead.

However, we will not back down. We, young leaders of the FYI, believe that there is still hope especially with the presence of FOI champions like Reps. Erin Tañada, Walden Bello, Kaka Bag-ao, Teddy Baguilat, and many others who were present in the committee hearing, but were not given a chance to speak due to the evident bias that Rep. Evardone had for his ‘partner-in-crime’, Rep. Antonino. We believe that this hope will remain and be strengthened by the fact the we, as a part of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, are not alone in this struggle for a government that is open and honest to the people it serves.

We invite our fellow young leaders in schools and communities to join us in continuing our fight for our constitutional right to information. With anti-FOI politicians like Reps. Evardone and Antonino in the 15th Congress and with the inaction of many of our leaders who claim to advocate transparency, the battle will definitely be long and difficult, but we will not falter. The FYI will intensify our call until we have an institutionalized mechanism for transparency and accountability in government: FOI NOW!

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