19 July 2013

[FYI in PCIJ] True State of Nation unknown without FOI in place

ON MONDAY, July 22, President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the country. In it, the President is expected to give his perspective of the true state of affairs of government, the country, and its people as he enters the fourth year of his Presidency.

But a youth group says that without a true Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in place, the true state of the nation will never be known by the public.

The FOI Youth Initiative, a network of 120 youth organizations pushing the passage of the Freedom of Information bill, says it hopes that President Aquino will finally endorse, or at least mention, the FOI bill in Monday’s SONA.

The group says that a mere mention of the FOI in the SONA “may catalyze the favorable action that we want to see on the part of the Executive.”

“The FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) believes that the real State of the Nation can only be known if we have Freedom of Information,” the group said in a statement. “Beyond hearing the words of the President, access to information held by the government on matters of public interest should be ensured to enable the people to build and shape their own view of the true state of Philippine society.”

“Hindi natin ganap na malalaman ang tunay na State of the Nation kung walang Freedom of Information,” the group added.

The FYI is part of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a network of 150 organizations pushing for the immediate passage of the FOI. The network has been lobbying unsuccessfully for the passage of the FOI for the last four Congresses. However, while the Senate has consistently been warm to the idea of an FOI measure, members of the House of Representatives have repeatedly blocked the bill’s passage.

Pro-FOI groups were heartened by the victory of Benigno Aquino III in the 2010 Presidential elections, since Aquino had repeatedly stated his support for the measure. However, the President has since proven cold to the FOI bill, raising several concerns over coverage of security issues, as well as alleged abuses by the media. Taking their cue from the Palace, administration congressmen have also delayed or blocked passage of the bill, saying that even the President does not seem interested in the measure.

This, even though a study group precisely created by the President to hammer out concerns over the FOI bill had already recommended its own version of the bill.

Earlier, members of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition filed a petition for an indirect initiative for a People’s FOI Bill, taking advantage of a law that allows ordinary citizens to propose their own laws to Congress.

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