Philippine Coalition Urges Action on FOIA Bill

12 July 2010

A coalition of more than 160 civil society groups and personalities has urged the adoption of a Freedom of Information law, according to media reports.  

“The Right to Know Right Now! Coalition also wants President Benigno Aquino III to include the bill among his priority measures in his State of the Nation Address on July 26,” according to a report by Cathy C. Yamsuan in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The coalition statement  recommended using abbreviated procedures to pass the bill, which has majority support but failed to pass in the previous Congress.  “The new senators and congressmen may do well not to repeat the processes so they can save valuable time and even more valuable taxpayers’ money,” the coalition said.

The coalition also asked the new president to “promulgate and observe active disclosure policies in their decisions and transactions, notably appointments, contracts, executive agreements, borrowing, and spending.”

The circumstances of the failed effort to get the bill passed also were raised in the letter.

As reported July 4 by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism:

Last June 4, the last session day of the 14th Congress, House Secretary General Marilyn B. Yap declared that only 128 members were present – or seven short of the 135 required to constitute a quorum – at the close of a roll call prompted by a quorum question from Lakas-Kampi ally of then Speaker Prospero Nograles.

A motion was made for the present members to compel the attendance of the absent members, as provided by Section 74 of the House Rules but Nograles simply scoffed at the motion.

After Nograles released the list of House members who were supposedly absent on June 4, at least nine congressmen later came forward and were established on video footage to have been actually present at the session hall during the roll call.

The coalition said the FOI bill was “as progressive and as reasonable as a Freedom of Information Act could get.”

“It provides a standard and definite procedure for dealing with requests for information. It clearly defines a narrow list of exceptions, carefully balancing the public interest in broad disclosure with the public interest in keeping certain information secret. It secures for citizens concurrent remedies in cases of denial of access to information,” it said.

Members of the coalition include:  Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Auxillary Bishop of Manila; former senator and human rights lawyer Wigberto Tañada; former congressman Benny M. Abante Jr.; former party-list Rep. Emmanuel Joel Villanueva of the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption; Dr. Florangel Rosario–Braid; Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; Prof. Luis Teodoro of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; Teresita Ang See of the Citizens Action Against Crime and Prof. Leonor M. Briones of Social Watch Philippines.

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