Starting and Sustaining a Youth Movement for FOI

2 December 2014

By Jeff Crisostomo

The author is the Founding Convener of the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) in the Philippines.

The FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) is a national network of more than two hundred Filipino youth and student organizations that call for transparency, accountability, and participation in government through the immediate passage of the People’s Freedom of Information Act.

It is the first and largest youth campaign network for FOI in the Philippines, and possibly, in the entire world.

As a member organization of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, the FYI is in solidarity with the struggle of various sectors of society for the transformation of public offices into institutions that are open and honest to the people that they serve. In the 16th Congress, through the Coalition, we became the only youth group to co-sponsor the People’s FOI Act (Petition No. 0001) drafted and filed by several civil society organizations via indirect initiative, which is a mechanism for citizens to propose their own legislation as mandated by Republic Act No. 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act.

Some may think that it would be difficult to arouse the attention of young people over issues like FOI. However, what made the FYI persistent in calling on the Filipino youth to join the campaign is the refusal to believe that they are apathetic. Our leaders hold a firm belief that their fellow young people, amid their own personal concerns, only needed to be provided with a venue to learn about the issues that actually affected them as citizens and to express their opinions on such matters. With this in mind, recruiting youth and student organizations to the cause was no longer a hard task.

The founding organizations of the FYI have been part of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition since 2009. With the rising number of youth groups taking part in the FOI campaign, the network was formally established and launched in August 2012, during the Third Regular Session of the 15th Congress. During this time, we began the first youth-led campaign for the FOI Bill. The basis of unity for our partner organizations of the FYI is our Manifesto:

Youth Manifesto for the Passage of the People’s Freedom of Information Act

We are the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI), a national network of youth and student organizations that call for transparency and accountability in government through the immediate passage of the People’s Freedom of Information Act.

We are in solidarity with different sectors of society in the clamor for more solid mechanisms that enable governance that is open and honest to the people.

We affirm that our right to information enshrined in the Constitution must be institutionalized through the People’s FOI Act to guarantee that transparency among public officials and employees becomes a norm and not simply a discretion of individuals bound by their terms of office.

We believe that the People’s FOI Act is a measure that shall curb corruption and advance participatory governance that will truly benefit each and every Filipino.

We oppose the inclusion of an unconstitutional and anti-press freedom Right of Reply rider within the FOI Bill because this dilutes the essence of a proposed law that seeks to strengthen the right to information of all Filipinos.

We urge President Benigno S. Aquino III to go beyond a mere declaration of support for the passage of the FOI Bill by certifying it as urgent in fulfillment of his promise of change to the people.

We appeal to all Senators and Representatives of the 16th Congress to immediately place the FOI Bill on top of the legislative agenda and to eliminate all obstacles that seek to delay its passage.

Finally, we call on our fellow young leaders to join us in fighting for the passage of the proposed People’s FOI Act into law to ultimately transform our government into an institution that is worthy of the trust of the people that it serves.

Using  Social Media

Social media continues to be an important tool in our campaign, particularly in recruitment and education.

Most of our partner organizations were invited to join the movement through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Recognizing the power of these forms of communication, we also employed the use of infographics and, as we would call them, advographics to capture the interest of our fellow young people in order to raise awareness and catalyze action.

Because of our effective use of social media, the FYI blog was chosen as the winner in the Featured Sites category of the 4th HR Pinduteros Choice Awards, which was organized by Human Rights Online Philippines to give recognition to inspiring and informative online activities of individuals and groups that promote human rights.

Marching, Too

Outside the online world, we diligently attended congressional hearings and actively engaged legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives. At the same time, various discussions were spearheaded by our partner organizations in different parts of the country to educate young people on the issues concerning FOI.

In early 2013, we joined other sectors in marching to Malacañang to pressure the Executive to heed our call for the measure’s enactment. We were also represented in a dialogue with Cabinet officials during that time. Unfortunately, when the 15th Congress ended, the approval of the bill was derailed in the House.

In the midst of these events, we will not falter. With the continuous growth of our ranks, we have intensified our efforts within and beyond the halls of the Legislature in the 16th Congress. From 71 partner organizations in our 15th Congress campaign, our roster now consists of more than two hundred youth and student groups.

Youth Congress Held

In July 2014, we held the first FOI Youth Congress, a national gathering of various youth and student organizations that supported the campaign for a transparent and accountable government.

Two hundred student and community youth leaders attended the three-day convention in the National College of Public Administration and Governance Assembly Hall in the University of the Philippines – Diliman.

The theme of the event was “Asserting the Youth’s Role in Shaping the Nation through the People’s Freedom of Information.” It sought to promote FOI as a youth issue, empower young leaders with knowledge and skills in exercising their right to information, and enable their participation in seeking transparency and accountability from different public institutions. It was hosted and organized by the UP Diliman University Student Council (UPD USC), the UPD College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Student Council (CSSPSC), and the UP Economics Towards Consciousness (UP ETC), the convening organizations of the FYI.

Now, more than ever, we are committed to be part of the movement to enact Freedom of Information, our constitutionally guaranteed right, into law. From lobbying to mobilizing, the FYI will continue its campaign together with the Filipino youth.

Our struggle does not end with the passage of the People’s FOI Act. Our main goal beyond the approval and implementation of a law is to build a constituency of young citizens who are proactive in accessing information in the pursuit of nation-building. We are the FOI Youth Initiative, and our resolve remains firm and steadfast in one resounding call: #PeoplesFOInow!

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