18 July 2013

[FYI in PCIJ] FOI advocates visit Senate, file People’s FOI Bill

MEMBERS OF THE Right to Know Right Now Coalition, an organization of more than 150 organizations pushing the passage of the long-delayed Freedom of Information bill, stormed the Senate yesterday to press legislators to move on the measure immediately.

Coalition lead convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan filed the coalition’s petition for an indirect initiative for the People’s FOI Bill with the Senate secretariat. The petition takes advantage of the mechanism provided by Republic Act 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act, which allows people’s organizations to propose a bill to Congress.

With this mechanism, a people’s bill will still go through the regular legislative mill, but will now “have precedence over pending legislative measures on the committee.”

Through the People’s FOI bill, the coalition hopes to spur Congress into finally passing the FOI after so many failed attempts. FOI advocates had hoped for a speedy passage of the bill with the assumption of President Benigno S. Aquino III, but were spurned when the chief executive eventually appeared to be cool to the measure.

This, even though Malacanang had previously created a Palace study group to hammer out a common bill that would be supported by both the executive and the FOI advocates.

Malaluan said the groups that joined him in filing the People’s FOI bill include the Philippine Airlines Employees Association, the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation, Prudentiallife Warriors, CODE-NGO, Transparency and Accountability Network, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, Alliance of Progressive Labor, and Aksyong Kabayanihan Para sa Organisadong Pagbabago.

Also joining the filers were representatives from the youth sector through the FOI Youth Initiative, now composed of 118 youth organizations spread throughout the country.

The coalition had filed a counterpart petition with the House of Representatives earlier this month. Advocates acknowledged that the real battle for the FOI takes place in the lower chamber, and not in the Senate, since most of the opposition to the FOI bill have consistently come from the House of Representatives. This, even though the President is supposed to exercise the most influence over the lower chamber, where he holds the majority.

In the 15th Congress, Congressmen succeeded in delaying the approval of the FOI bill in the House Committee on Public Information until the last two weeks of session of Congress. By then, there was already little time left for any substantial discussion of the bill on the floor.

Anti-FOI legislators then killed the FOI bill in the 15th Congress by raising other measures of more local concern in the last days of session. With that, FOI advocates had to go back to square one with yet another version of the FOI bill.

Malaluan expressed confidence that the group’s new tack would give the FOI bill a better chance of getting through the legislative wringer.

“With the bills filed, we now shift to the grind of the legislative process and movement building,” he said. “At the House, our champions are also moving.”

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