CAGAYAN DE ORO City, May 2, 2011â€”The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is fast becoming an â€œorphaned cause in governmentâ€ as MalacaÃ±ang and Congress continue to stall its enactment causing its proponents and advocates to doubt the Aquino administrationâ€™s sincerity in instituting transparency in government.
â€œPardon us, Mr. President, but we could not help but think that all too suddenly, save for a few consistent voices in Congress, the FOI bill has become an orphaned cause in government, a bill without fathers, mothers, friends, advocates, and champions under your administration,â€ said the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition in a May 2 letter to President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.
In its letter, which was signed by more than 150 leaders/representatives of FOI advocates from various sectors including the media, the coalition lamented that the Aquino administration has not substantially responded to the widespread clamor for the passage of the FOI bill despite repeated appeals.
â€œThree times we have written and three times, too, we have failed to receive substantial positive feedback from you or your deputies regarding our appeal,â€ the coalition said.
â€œPlease understand, Mr. President, that absent positive developments, or even public statements, on how your administration intends and wishes to help enact the FOI Act â€“ we are given no reason to remain hopeful. With all due respect, Mr. President, during your first 10 months in office the FOI bill has achieved no breakthroughs. And this is despite a long, congenial, and substantial meeting that we had months ago in MalacaÃ±ang where the three Cabinet secretaries of your Communications Group assured us of their support for the FOI bill,â€ it added.
The coalition also reminded Aquino of his â€œSocial Contract with the Filipino People,â€ which hinges at the FOI billâ€™s passage as the bedrock in instituting good governance, transparency, accountability and responsive delivery of public services.â€
With the first regular session of the 15th Congress nearing its end, upon which congressmen will start jockeying for positions for the 2013 elections, the coalition feared that the FOI bill will be forgotten because even the Presidentâ€™s own Liberal Party allies â€œcould not make the FOI bill move in the 15th Congress with as much resolve as they had demonstrated in the 14th Congress.â€
â€œWe believe that a key reason for the lack of progress on the FOI bill in Congress is the perceived lack of decisive support for it from the Executive branch, in particular, from the President,â€ the coalition said.
The FOI bill is still pending in the Committee of Public Information both in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The FOI bill was ratified in the Senate in the 14th Congress but failed in the House of Representatives then dominated by allies of the former president who was perceived to be the most corrupt in Philippine political history.
Congressâ€™ failure to pass the FOI bill is unconstitutional.
The 1987 Constitution, which was written and ratified under the watch of President Corazon Aquino, the mother of Malacanangâ€™s present occupant, fully guarantees the right of the people to access information and documents in the custody of government officials and agencies, as well as prescribes the state policies of transparency and accountability.
Section 7 of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution states: â€œThe right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to limitations as may be provided by law. â€
Section 28 of Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Policies) of the Constitution states: â€œSubject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.â€
Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma also demanded the passage of the FOI bill.
â€œThe Freedom of Information Bill is a demand of the times, a vote of good governance, democracy, truth, transparency and accountability. We believe that its passage will empower citizens to help in jump starting the process of renewal of our democratic institutions, â€Ledesma said. (Bong D. Fabe)