29 September 2013

UP Kalipunan para sa Agham Panlipunan at Pilosopiyang Pilipino (KAPPP): People's FOI, ipasa na!

UP ALYANSA: Pass the People's FOI Act Now!

UP ALYANSA at the #LightUp4FOI event at the
House of Representatives last 27 September 2013.
In 2002, more than half a century after the very first session of the UN General Assembly that pronounced* freedom of information (FOI) as a "fundamental human right" and the "touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated," advocates and organizations from around the world, gathered in a conference in Bulgaria, declared the 28th of September as the International Right to Know Day. Since that day, around 65 countries** have adopted their own versions of laws implementing FOI, constituting about two thirds of today's total number of countries with FOI laws.

In the Philippines, the citizens' right to access public information was first nominally recognized under the 1973 Constitution. This was followed by a declaration in the 1987 Constitution of full public disclosure as a policy of the State. However, without a law providing for procedures and penalties for violations, these express constitutional provisions have been nothing more than words on paper. Indeed, without an FOI act, Marcos smoothly facilitated a dictatorship, Estrada and Arroyo freely stole while in power, and Napoles, transcending administrations, schemed for senators and congressmen fake projects and NGOs.

Thus, in the midst of scandals of systemic corruption orchestrated for years and decades beyond the public eye, UP Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA), in solidarity with more than a hundred other organizations under the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) and the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, challenges the legislature on this eve of the International Right to Know Day: Legislate the People's FOI Act now.

For a right so basic in any democracy, the struggle for freedom of information in the country has been far too long. 

As years pass by without an FOI act, billions and billions of public funds are lost to secret transactions and unexplained items of expenditures in government. The pork barrel scam today, for example, covers several years of misuse and misappropriation in the past that would have been discovered earlier by the public under the People's FOI Act. If only the measure were already in force, ordinary citizens would have had the right to demand, through appropriate procedures, information on PDAF projects in the past - including reports on disbursements and whether or not the projects were in fact implemented. If officials charged with custody of these documents refused, penalties under the law would have been imposed.

Beyond procedures and penalties, however, the People's FOI Act also represents a crucial element of democratic political life: a culture of participatory governance. If passed, the People's FOI Act will institutionalize people power by providing access to information needed by ordinary citizens to take a more active role in policymaking, administration, and service delivery. Indeed, beyond the obvious benefits of the measure to media institutions, the People's FOI Act will also encourage professionals, academics, volunteers, and legitimate non-profit organizations, with their dynamism and political will, to conduct research initiatives, start visionary projects, and assist government in its various services. The end result is a mature democratic culture wherein both government and civil society serve as key partners in governance.

The struggle for freedom of information in the country must now therefore end. While we laud the recent expression of support from Malacanang and the start of plenary debates over the proposed legislation in the Senate, the real battle now lies in the House of Representatives, where the bill met its fiercest, albeit hushed, opposition in the previous Congress.

Thus, we challenge the President, who promised passage of the bill during his election campaign in 2010, to start walking the talk and certify the People's FOI Act as urgent. Indeed, without an FOI act, the Aquino administration would have practically failed in its anti-corruption drive. Without the passage of the People's FOI Act, the tuwid na daan will be nothing more than a PR campaign and a slogan for impeaching and arresting opponents.

Pass the People's Freedom of Information Act NOW!


* Resolution 59(I) of the United Nations General Assembly: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/59(I)&Lang=E&Area=RESOLUTION

** Secondary statistic from http://right2info.org/access-to-information-laws/access-to-information-laws-overview-and-statutory#_ftnref7

UP Economics Towards Consciousness (ETC): Pass FOI Now!

UP Economics Towards Consciousness (ETC) is one of the 
lead convening organizations of the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI).

22 September 2013

#LightUp4FOI: Candle-Lighting on September 27, 2013, the Eve of the International Right to Know Day

The PDAF Scam exposed how we Filipinos remain victims to plunder despite numerous government mechanisms to protect public funds. In the PDAF system, projects are supposed to conform to a limited menu of eligible project and each project is subject to oversight by Congress, the Department of Budget and Management and the implementing agencies. Each project has to abide by the Procurement Act, stringent guidelines on release of funds and participation by NGOs, and is subject to regular audit by COA. 

Amid the breakdown at different points in government safeguard mechanisms, the calls to address the ills of pork barrel and to bring the guilty to justice, we also demand the immediate passage of the People's Freedom of Information Act. It will empower us to directly protect ourselves against abuses of hard-earned resources that we entrust to government.

The Senate responded with urgency to our call. Public Information Chair Senator Grace Poe already completed the committee process and will present its report to the Senate plenary soon. Senate President Franklin Drilon targets to pass the FOI bill on third reading by end 2013, which, if it happens, will be the fastest ever by a chamber of Congress in the long legislative history of FOI. 

Still, the House of Representatives remains the bastion of resistance to FOI. No credible concrete action to advance the bill has been proposed by its leaders. Worse, old excuses, such as the unavailability of a meeting room, are rehashed to explain inaction.

On Friday, September 27, the Lower House will hold its last session before taking a two-week break. On that day, they will approve the budgets of the Office of the President and the Department of Budget and Management. Budget discussions are an opportune time to press the issue of the pork barrel controversy and to push for transparency in the handling of public funds.

September 27 is also the eve of the International Right to Know Day. The Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition and other concerned groups and individuals will troop to the House of Representatives to convey our urgent demand for the passage of the People's Freedom of Information Act. We invite you to join us.

We will assemble at 5:00 p.m. for a short program. By 6:30 p.m. we will light candles to symbolize our desire to have a government where information is illuminated and made accessible to all citizens. 

Those who will not be able to join us in Batasan are encouraged to organize their own candle-lighting events in their localities. You can also be involved via social media by posting a photo of yourself with a lit candle and a statement stating your call for the passage of the FOI Bill, with hashtag #LightUp4FOI. (Ex. "Ako si [NAME]; kasama ako sa panawagang ipasa na ang FOI Bill! #LightUp4FOI" or "I am [NAME]; I am one with the call for the passage of the FOI Bill! #LightUp4FOI") 

Panahon na para sa FOI sa ating bansa. Sa dami ng lumalantad na isyung may kinalaman sa pondo ng mamamayan, palakasin natin ang panawagang ipasa ang batas na magtitiyak na ang pamahalaan natin ay bukas at may pananagutan.

Tayo na para sa FOI! 

18 September 2013

[FYI in the Inquirer] Congress to vote on FOI bill after Aquino certifies it as urgent—Belmonte

by Leila B. Salaverria
From http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/489533/congress-to-vote-on-foi-bill-after-aquino-certifies-it-as-urgent-belmonte.

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said on Tuesday the freedom of information bill would be put to a vote in the 16th congress, especially after President Aquino certified it as urgent.

Belmonte painted a more optimistic future for the FOI bill on Tuesday, after it stalled in the last two congresses. The measure will be taken up after MalacaƱang decided to include the transparency and accountability measure in the list of bills it considers urgent and will present to lawmakers during the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, according to Belmonte.

“It really helps that the Palace itself says okay [to the bill], so that augurs well for the future of that bill in the 16th congress,” Belmonte told reporters on Tuesday.

He also answered in the affirmative when asked if this would guarantee that the bill would be a put to a vote.

He disclosed that he had asked several people to study the different versions of the FOI bill filed in Congress and to provide feedback on the measures.

“In other words, we’re not ignoring it,” he said.

The FOI bill failed to hurdle the 15th Congress, the first congress convened under the Aquino administration. The bill was approved at the committee level, but was not deliberated on and put to a vote in the plenary.

Advocates of the bill, which seeks to lift the shroud of secrecy on government dealings and transactions, had repeatedly called on the President to certify it as urgent, but he did not do so.

Calls to approve the measure intensified following the disclosure of an alleged scheme to channel lawmakers’ pork barrel funds totalling P10 billion to their and their cohorts’ pockets.

According to FOI proponents, having such a transparency measure would prevent similar schemes from taking place.

Meanwhile, the FOI Youth Initiative rejoiced at the reported inclusion of the FOI bill in the list of priority measures.

“Our hope in the struggle for transparency and accountability has been renewed. Our public officials should now realize the dire need for this measure in the wake of all issues of government corruption, especially the PDAF scam,” FYI convenor Allan Pangilinan said in a statement.

[FYI in Pilipino Star Ngayon] Kamara ‘di makikialam

by Butch Quejada, Gemma Garcia

MANILA, Philippines - Hindi makikialam ang Kamara kung may makakasuhang incumbent Congressmen kaugnay sa pork barrel scam. Tiniyak ni House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, kapag may nakaupong kongresista na nakasuhan ay makikisimpatiya siya sa mga ito subalit hindi siya gagawa ng anumang hakbang para tulungan ang mga ito at makialam sa kaso.

Lahat naman umano sila ay accountable sa kanilang mga aksyon bilang mambabatas kaya aminado ito na batik sa buong Kamara ang pork barrel scam.

Hindi naman umano malaki ang epekto nito sa kapulungan dahil nakararami sa 292 kongresista ay matino ang paggamit sa kanilang pork barrel.

Samantala, muling nabuhayan ng pag-asa ang grupong FOI Youth Initiative sa pahayag ni Belmonte na nais niyang pagbotohan sa 16th Congress ngayon ang Freedom of Information bill.

“Nagkaroon kaming muli ng pag-asa sa pakikibaka para sa transparency at accountability,” sabi ni Alan Pangilinan, FYI convenor at UPD CSSPSC Councilor.

Ikinasiya ng FYI na isasama na sa talakayan ng Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) ang naturang panukalang-batas.

“Dapat maunawaan ng mga opisyal ng gobyerno ang matinding pangangailangan sa batas na ito dahil sa mga isyu ng katiwalian tulad ng sa PDAF scam,” sabi pa ni Pangilinan na nagdagdag na silang mga lider-kabataan ay patuloy sa pagsusubaybay sa prosesong dadaanan ng FOI bill sa Kongreso.

02 September 2013

[FYI in the Inquirer] Letter to the Editor: Beyond ‘Million’ march, enact FOI

The crowds in Luneta may not have reached a million, but the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who were there last Aug. 26 represented more than what the name of the gathering suggested. We were there to embody the struggle of each and every citizen against the evils of corruption in public offices. We, the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI), were there, as well as in other centers of protest across the country, to represent all young Filipinos who seek to inherit a society empowered by a government that is committed to the principles of transparency and accountability.

We in the FYI believe that the war we are waging against corruption must be continued and strengthened. Beyond Aug. 26, we will remain vigilant over the investigation of the pork barrel scam. Beyond Aug. 26, we will call for justice by demanding that all those involved in the misuse of public funds be held accountable. Most of all, beyond Aug. 26, we will intensify our campaign for the enactment of the People’s Freedom of Information Law.

FOI Youth Initiative,
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