Philippines OGP Commitment on FOI Legislation General

20 September 2011

The Open Government Partnership commitment by the Philippines government on pending freedom of legislation is general and President Benigno Aquino, who addressed an OGP event in New York Sept. 20, but did not mention the pending bill.

The Phlippines national action plan statement on the OGP website, posted Sept. 20, states in part:

Promote Access to Government Information.
Throughout 2012, the Government will move towards adopting a policy for citizens to freely access government information in a timely, relevant and meaningful way, subject to certain limitations such as national security, foreign diplomacy and privacy concerns. It will work with CSOs and the private sector in broadening the scope of access to official information through all possible means; as well as in improving the compliance of government agencies to existing standards of information disclosure.  

Supporters of the bill have urged Aquino to be more specific about the legislation, which he has said is not acceptable in its current form. The administration has yet to announce its proposal, however. (See previous report.)

Aquino did not address the pending freedom of information law in his country during his address to the conference, but rather spoke generally about the important of information in democracies and the potential value of the OGP. (His talk at the official ceremony is here.)

In a Sept. 16 statement, the coalition wrote:

In his remarks at the conference, and in his interaction with world leaders, President Aquino will score political (and economic) points on the world stage when he renders a rosy picture of the transparency, accountability, and participation initiatives of his administration.

But on the home front, we do not find credible basis for President Aquino to beat his breast as an exemplar of transparency and open government in the world.

More than 14 months into his term, President Aquino has not mustered the political will to honor his campaign pact with the people` to assure the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, the legislation the country needs to provide substantive, procedural, and institutional guarantee to the people’s constitutional right to information.

Aguino Speech

At the conference, Aguino spoke of “the power of social media” and said government engagement with citizens in dialogue “reinforces a culture of openness.” Aguino said, “Openness inspires trust which is the foundation of genuine partnership.”

He gave a variety of examples of activities in the Philippines, including a “Peoples Money” website where citizens can report corruption. More government is being put online, including budget information and contract bidding data. Traffic and weather information is now more readily available he said, commenting, “The cellphone has helped cut red tape and bring government closer its people.”

Governments that do things right should have no problem keeping citizens informed, the president said, with the result being an empowered citizenry.

“We are excited” to be a part of the OGP, he said. The national action plans are a means for countries to share information on transparency efforts and the OGP “can become a source of collective strength,” he said.

Other Critical Comments

Criticisms of how the government handled the release of the plan and how it was devised atre contained in a blog post by Malou Mangahas on the website of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism entitled “The Irony of Open.”. 

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