25 June 2013

[FYI in Manila Standard Today] Push for info freedom bill renewed

by Christine F. Herrera, 25 June 2013

THE support for the immediate passage of the Freedom of Information bill has snowballed as some 80 youth and student organizations on Monday signed a manifesto urging President Benigno Aquino III to certify the measure as urgent “in fulfillment of his promise of change to the people.”

In a news conference, the FOI Youth Initiative, a member of the Right to Know, Right Now coalition, called for transparency and accountability in government through the immediate passage of the FOI bill.

Rep. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao promised to push for the FOI bill after its main proponent, House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III ended his term. The bill, pushed by Tanada and Baguilat, both of the ruling Liberal Party, failed to pass in the 15th Congress. It was archived in the committee level with Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, claiming the Palace did not want the bill approved. Evardone is also a Liberal.

“We affirm that our right to information enshrined in the Constitution must be institutionalized through the FOI Law to guarantee that transparency among public officials and employees becomes a norm and not simply a discretion of individuals bound by their terms of office,” the FYI said in a manifesto.

“We urge President Benigno S. Aquino III to go beyond a mere declaration of support for the passage of the FOI Bill by certifying it as urgent in fulfillment of his promise of change to the people.

“We appeal to all Senators and Representatives of the 16th Congress to immediately place the FOI Bill on top of the legislative agenda and to eliminate all obstacles that seek to delay its passage.”

The students demanded that the House members drop the unconstitutional and anti-press freedom Right of Reply rider within the FOI bill as this “dilutes the essence of a proposed law that seeks to strengthen the right to information of all Filipinos.”

Among the signatories were youth and student organizations from premier colleges and universities such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De la Salle University, Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, Silliman University in Dumaguete City, University of Sto. Tomas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines and those from Cebu City, Iloilo City and Zamboanga City.

“We believe that the FOI Law is a measure that shall curb corruption and advance participatory governance that will truly benefit each and every Filipino,” the student and youth leaders said.

The student and youth leaders said they wanted FOI bill to become a law to “ultimately transform our government into an institution that is worthy of the trust of the people that it serves.”

24 June 2013

[FYI in PCIJ] FOI advocates press on, try indirect initiative

From http://pcij.org/blog/2013/06/24/foi-advocates-press-on-try-indirect-initiative.

Image from the PCIJ Blog.

AFTER MORE THAN a decade of frustration and disappointment, advocates of the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill are now trying a new and untested tack to push the measure through the legislative mill.

Spurned by Congress and largely ignored by Malacanang, FOI advocates have launched a campaign for an “indirect initiative,” or a bill that is proposed, not by legislators, but by citizens. The campaign was launched Monday morning, June 24, by the Right to Know Right Now Coalition, a network of more than 150 civil society organizations that have been pushing for the passage of an FOI bill for more than 17 years.

The indirect initiative is provided by Republic Act 6735, or the Initiative and Referendum Act. Under this law, any people’s organization may file a petition for an indirect initiative with Congress.

“The petition shall contain a summary of the chief purposes and contents of the bill that the organization proposes to be enacted into law by the legislature,” the law states.

The law states that the proposal will still go through the same legislative process as any ordinary law, except that “the said initiative bill shall have precedence over the pending legislative measures on the committee.”

With this, FOI proponents are hoping to force the hand of a largely recalcitrant Congress into passing the FOI measure. At the same time, the strategy is meant to show to legislators just how much support the measure has from ordinary citizens and CSOs.

The advocates had hoped for passage of the speedy passage of the FOI bill under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. However, the bill has wallowed in Congress because of the lack of interest shown by the President in the measure. This, despite repeated assurances by Aquino that he would support the bill when he was still campaigning for the Presidency.

Many legislators have expressed concerns over an FOI law, saying that the law could encourage more abuses and excesses by the media. In addition, some legislators have even pushed for a non-retroactivity clause in the bill, meaning information gathered prior to the passage of the bill could not be subjected to an FOI petition.

Yet another faction within Congress has pushed for a Right of Reply provision in the FOI bill, claiming this would curb any excesses by the media.

Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan, lead convenor of the network, says the measure takes into account the spirit and the letter of the bicameral conference committee report of the 14th Congress, which almost passed the measure. As well, the bill takes into account the inputs of the Malacanang Study Group that President Aquino had earlier formed in order to draw up a Palace version of the bill.

The “People’s FOI BIll” takes into account the following:

  • It clarifies the scope of accessible information by defining clearly the list of allowable exceptions, and removes the wide discretion in withholding or granting access.
  • It provides a uniform and speedy procedure for people’s access to information, including how requests are made and responded to, and what remedies are available in case of denial.
  • It enumerates specific acts violative of the right to information that constitute administrative or criminal offenses
  • And it introduces mechanisms to facilitate better citizen access to information, such as providing standards for record keeping.

Malaluan said there are two modes by which the citizenry can propose legislation through Congress. The first and more difficult is direct initiative, wherein ten percent of the registered voters must sign a petition to propose legislation. However, at least three percent of the voters in each legislative district must sign the petition for the proposal to even get off the ground.

The other, more practical method, would be the indirect initiative, which “gives peoples organizations the right to push bills through the legislative mill.”

“Even as we are well aware that many politicians will work to thwart our dream and confine us to passive trust in government, we are determined to win and embrace the passage of the People’s FOI Bill as our collective statement of citizenship,” Malaluan said.

“We therefore invite all people’s organizations and concerned individuals to help us bring this FOI movement to success,” Malaluan added.

Max De Mesa, chairman of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), stressed that the FOI is not just for the media. In fact, De Mesa said FOI was also a matter of life and death, as could be seen in the case of the missing agricultural activist Jonas Burgos. De Mesa said that not even the Commission on Human Rights has been given any information on the whereabouts of Burgos despite repeated orders by the Supreme Court for his release. Furthermore, De Mesa said the FOI should help stamp out the problem of impunity.

The Kapatiran party, on the other hand, stressed that the measure would “expose vested interests, and lead to the identification of corrupt officials.” The party added that there could be no real “tuwid na daan” without a real FOI.

Representatives from the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) also committed their time and resources to the campaign for an indirect initiative. They said that even though many have criticized the youth for being too self-oriented or self-centered, the FYI group is determined to prove them wrong. The youth said that they want more active participation by the youth in current affairs beyond the regular electoral exercises that come only once every three years.

Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, said it was important that the FOI be put in place before the 2016 Presidential elections, so that all candidates and politicians would have a firm benchmark with which to start from in terms of FOI. “Kung hindi, para tayong babalik sa pre-EDSA,” Mangahas said. (Otherwise, it is as if we are going back to the pre-EDSA days.)

Several advocates pointed out how long the network has been fighting for the passage of the FOI bill. For example, several advocates who had babies when they started pushing for the FOI bill 17 years ago are now sending the same “babies” to college already – this, while the FOI remains stillborn.

Sonny Fernandez of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines warned the group against legislators who are posing as advocates of the FOI. Fernandez pointed out that some legislators are in fact pushing an FOI version that has a provision that requires a Right of Reply, which many press freedom groups see as a kind of prior restraint and censorship.

Malaluan said the network will file its petition for an indirect initiative with Congress on Monday, July 1. This will be preceded by a vigil with pro-FOI legislators and CSOs.

[FYI in Interaksyon.com / TV5] Robredo widow vows to champion FOI bill

by Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, 24 June 2013
From http://www.interaksyon.com/article/64766/robredo-widow-vows-to-champion-foi-bill.

Image from Interaksyon.com
MANILA, Philippines -- Neophyte congresswoman Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo promised to champion the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill when it makes a comeback in the 16th Congress.

"I believe that the FOI bill should be passed," adding that the Malacanang-backed version filed in the last Congress was already a good bill.

A month before the opening of the new Congress, advocates led by the FOI Youth Initiative and the Right to Know, Right Now Coalition called for support for the bill to ensure it is passed. The groups also asked President Benigno Aquino III to certify it as urgent to fast-track its approval.

"We affirm that our right to information enshrined in the Constitution must be institutionalized through the FOI Law to guarantee that transparency among public officials and employees becomes a norm and not simply a discretion of individuals bound by their terms of office," FYI said in a statement.

"We urge President Benigno S. Aquino III to go beyond a mere declaration of support for the passage of the FOI Bill by certifying it as urgent in fulfillment of his promise of change to the people," it added.

The group said the bill must be passed without the right of reply provision, which it said would change the essence of the proposed law.

Robredo, widow of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, said she believes Malacanang will give its full backing for the bill.

"I think we want the same thing, I don't think Malacanang will put a hindrance to initiatives toward transparency," she said.

Meanwhile, Robredo said she has submitted a request to the House Secretary General to allow her to hold office at the office of outgoing Deputy Speaker and Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tanada III.

"I hope they will let me have the room for my office ... It's just gut feel, and after all, Erin (Tanada) and I have the same advocacies," she added.

Robredo is one of the 65 neophyte lawmakers in the chamber.

12 June 2013

MOVE UP: Renewing the Challenge

Kalayaan—an abstract word made concrete since the day this nation was freed from more than 300 years of Spanish colonial regime. Today, we celebrate not just the declaration of independence of the Philippines, but also the struggle for freedom where we saw countless of Filipino heroes sacrifice their lives to free the nation from the shackles of oppression and the bondage of dependence from colonial power. Today marks the 115th year of this historical event—a success of our collective struggle for freedom.

In line with the 115th anniversary celebration of Philippine Independence and as the 16th Congress starts this July, MOVE UP urges our legislators-elect to genuinely put the interests of the marginalized, oppressed, and powerless sectors of society in their utmost priority. We set upon them the challenge to:

  1. Reintroduce and refile the Freedom of Information bill. Putting FOI bill as a main legislative agenda in the 16th Congress is crucial in President Noynoy Aquino’s reform agenda and the national government’s initiative to eradicate graft and corruption. It ensures that the principles of transparency and accountability are upheld by giving the Filipino people access to public documents, especially those involving government expenditures. The immediate passage of the FOI bill will empower the Filipino public as stakeholders to the continuous struggle of reformation and the development of our nation.
  2. Join in the clamor to ensure the development of students’ rights and welfare. As the heroes of the Philippine Revolution valiantly fought for the future of our nation, they put great importance to the role of the youth as catalysts for social change. For a long time now, we are still firm with our stance that the immediate passage of the Students’ Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Bill is essential, because students are key components in nation-building. Securing a legislative measure that intends to protect their rights and welfare of the students is a step towards progressive social change. We, in MOVE UP, believe that the STRAW Bill can overhaul policies that are unconsulted, oppressive, and neocolonial such as the “no payment, no exam” policy, and the refusal to accept enrollment because of pregnancy and gender, to name a few.
  3. Promote a safe and clean political system free from the grip of political dynasties. More than three centuries of colonial rule saw the Philippines mired in corruption and greed for power by clerics and government officials. The Philippines has indeed become an archipelago largely controlled by political dynasties that look at elections as a family enterprise. According to the 1987 Constitution, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” (Art. II. Sec. 26). We, in MOVE UP, believe that a legislative measure such an Anti Political Dynasty Law will ensure fair access to public office and a progressive leadership loyal not to their families’ interests but to the common good.

Ultimately, we, in MOVE UP, challenge our fellow Iskolars ng Bayan, Para sa Bayan to go beyond the borders of our university to fight for these advocacies. The fight goes far— beyond the campus, beyond the Congress, and beyond the streets. It is only by our collective action that our vision for a truly just, democratic, and progressive Philippines will be a reality. It is only through this that we may be able to ensure that the sacrifices of those who have come before us will not be in vain.

Hindi pa tapos ang laban para sa kalayaan. Only by living up to the challenge can we find and appreciate the true meaning of freedom.

Mabuhay ang kasarinlan ng Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang malayang Pilipino!    

[The Movement of Students for Progressive Leadership in the University of the Philippines (MOVE UP) of UP Los Baños is a partner organization of the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI).]

UPD CSSP Student Council: "Tayo na't ipagpatuloy ang laban tungo sa kalayaan!"

The College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Student Council (CSSPSC)
of the University of the Philippines - Diliman is one of the Convening Organizations
of the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI).

07 June 2013

A renewed campaign of the youth for FOI

With the last session of the House of Representatives and Senate signalling the end of the 15th Congress, various groups have once again renewed the call for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill.

“We deeply hope that more champions for FOI will emerge in the 16th Congress,” said AJ Montesa, one of the conveners of the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) and President of the UP Economics Towards Consciousness (ETC). 

The FYI is the first and only national network of youth and student organizations campaigning for the passage of the said measure. It is a member of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition.

“We understand that all winning senatorial candidates in the recently concluded elections expressed support for the FOI Bill. We only hope that these will not end up as unfulfilled promises of politicians who only tried to gain votes,” said Montesa. 

“Hopefully, the Chairs of the committees that will tackle the FOI Bill in both Houses of Congress will be supportive. We don’t want to hear the same excuses from the previous years.”

Congressman Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar chaired the House Committee on Public Information. Hearings on the bill were delayed due to different reasons. “The lamest of which is the lack of available rooms to hold the meetings,” Montesa added.

Last year, the members of the FYI offered to host the House committee hearing in one of the classrooms in the University of the Philippines - Diliman “just to end the undue delays on a piece of legislation that is essential in the fight against corruption.”

“Now, we are at the beginning of a renewed campaign of young leaders for the passage of the FOI Bill. We started the FYI in August 2012 and ended the 15th Congress with a roster of 71 organizations,” said Montesa. “We started from zero in our 16th Congress campaign due to leadership changes in student organizations. In just two weeks, we now have 61 partner organizations!” 

“It took us months to get 71 groups in the 15th Congress. With a little less than two months before the start of the 16th, we are about to surpass that record. This just goes to show that FOI is definitely become more and more relevant to our generation.”

The FYI promised to intensify its lobbying efforts while recruiting more and more young people in their campaign for transparency and accountability in government.

“From social media to the halls of the Senate and the House, young people will remind our elected officials to put FOI first in the legislative agenda,” ended Montesa.

05 June 2013

[FYI in Rep. Tañada's Abante Column] Tuloy ang laban para sa FOI

Bagong simula na naman ng Senado at Kongreso para sa mga panawagan ng mga mamamayan patu ngkol sa mga batas na nararapat maipasa upang makatulong sa pagginhawa ng buhay at pag-unlad ng lipunan.

Kasama sa mga ito para sa akin, na marahil alam na alam niyo na, ay ang panawagang maisabatas na ang Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, isang panukalang naglalayong gawing mas bukas at mas may pananagutan ang pamahalaan at ang mga kawani’t opisyal nito sa mga mamamayan.

Gagawin nitong mas madali ang pagkuha ng mga dokumentong may kinalaman sa interes ng publiko, kagaya na lang ng mga kontrata sa mga proyekto ng pamahalaan, detalye ng budget, at tsaka nga pala ang SALN ng mga opisyales ng pamahalaan. Sa pamamagitan nito, mas mapapadali ang paglaban natin sa katiwalian dahil agad na nakukuha ang impormasyon.

Higit pa rito, nabubuksan ang pinto sa higit na epektibong pakikilahok ng mamamayan na esensyal sa isang matinong demokrasya.

Ilang Kongreso na ang nakaraan subali’t bigo kaming ipasa ang panukalang ito. Maraming dahilan pero hindi na ako dadako roon.

Ngayon namang ika-16 na Kongreso, tuloy ang laban. Masigasig ang mga pinagmanahan ko ng FOI Bill. Nariyan pa rin sina Cong. Teddy Baguilat ng Ifugao, Cong. Kaka Bag-ao ng Dinagat Islands, Cong. Walden Bello ng Akbayan, Cong. Cinchona Cruz-Gonzales at Sherwin Tugna ng CIBAC, Cong. Emmeline Aglipay ng DIWA, Cong. Neri Colmenares ng Bayan Muna, at marami pang iba.

Maliban pa sa kanila, may mga bagong mukha sa laban. Natutuwa akong magiging bahagi na ng Kamara ang biyuda ni Sec. Jesse, si Congresswoman-Elect Leni Robredo, na noong nagkita kami sa burol ni Sec. Jesse ay una niyang nabanggit sa akin ay gusto niya ang FOI ad ko at ngayon ay nagsabing siya din ay maghahain ng FOI Bill.

Sa labas ng Kongreso, nariyan ang Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, isang multi-sektoral na grupong patuloy na tumitindig at kumikilos upang maipasa na sa wakas ang pinakahihintay nating batas na makatutulong sa paglaban sa katiwalian at mas magbubukas ng pinto para sa pakikilahok ng mamamayan sa pamamahala.

Sila ang naging inspirasyon ko habang nakaupo ako bilang Kongresista sa ating laban para sa pagkakaroon ng pamahalaang bukas at tapat.

Ikinagagalak ko rin ang muling pag-reorganisa ng kauna-unahan at natatanging pambansang samahan ng mga kabataang bahagi ng panawagan -- ang FOI Youth Initiative (FYI). Nitong ika-15 Kongreso, noong nagsimula sila noong Agosto 2012 hanggang matapos panandalian ang laban nitong Pebrero, umabot sa 71 ang mga organisasyon ng kabataan at mag-aaral na bahagi nito.

Ngayong Hunyo, sa loob ng wala pang dalawang linggo at habang hindi pa nagsisimula ang ika-16 na Kongreso, nasa 53 na ang kanilang mga kasa­ping organisasyon! Tunay ngang isyu rin ng kabataan ang FOI!

Ngayong patapos na ang aking termino (huling sesyon na namin ngayong linggong ito), hindi ako nag-aalala para sa kilusang lumalaban para sa FOI. Nariyan ang mga magaga­ling na mambabatas na sinsero sa pangako ng daang matuwid.

Nariyan ang mga grupong aktibong kumikilos para maipasa na ang panukalang ito. Nariyan pa rin ako bilang ordinaryong mamamayan para tumulong at sabihing: “Tuloy ang laban!”
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