The world awaits RP freedom of info act

By Malou Mangahas, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Posted at May 23 2010 11:43 PM | Updated as of May 24 2010 08:49 PM

Today starts a series of mass actions by journalists, workers, students, professionals, business and church leaders, and civil-society groups in their vigorous final push for Congress to ratify the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

But the world waits and watches, too. More than just a Philippine story, the 14-year advocacy of Filipinos for Congress to enact the law has become a serious concern of freedom of information advocates, scholars and members of parliament across the globe.

At noon today, over 130 groups under the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition will hold a motorcade from the University of the Philippines in Diliman to the House of Representatives to press lawmakers to ratify the Congress’s bicameral conference committee report on the FOI Act.

The motorcade participants will then join up with other FOI advocates who will assemble across the Old Batasan building starting 1 p.m., to await the arrival of House members for a session called by Speaker Prospero Nograles.

About FOI advocacy groups and 22 FOI advocates and scholars and members of parliament from Asia, Africa, America, Europe, and the Pacific Islands sent a stirring message: the world awaits the ratification of the Philippines’ FOI Act.

Nograles, House dared: Lead, ratify FOI now!

Farmer Jose Rodito Angeles did not know that he had a right to own the land he has been tilling for ages until someone from a non-government organization told him about the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

At that time in 2001, CARP has been running for 13 years but it took four more years for Angeles, 59, of La Castellana, Negros Occidental to secure the necessary documents to affirm his lawful claim on his land.

“Malapit lang ang lugar namin sa kabayanan. Pero wala ni isang taga-DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) ang nagpunta sa amin para ipaalam ang tungkol sa programa. Hanggang sa may tumulong sa amin na NGO na nagsabing puwede pala kaming magkalupa,” says Angeles. (Our place is just near the town proper but nobody from the DAR visited us to tell us about CARP. It was someone from an NGO who informed us that we could own our land.)  > more

Ratify FOI Canvass Votes Right to Know Right Now Coalition May 2010

In a joint statement dated May 22, 2010, the FOI groups and advocates said that as the political leadership shifts from outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to winning presidential candidate Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the Congress must rush to ratify the measure.

The FOI Act, the groups said, “will no doubt put the Philippines solidly along the path of strong democracy and enhanced governance, and allow for the greater participation of all Filipinos in true nation-building.”

“In a few weeks, the Philippines will see a newly elected government formally proclaimed. We congratulate the Philippines for the orderly conduct of the recently concluded national elections,” the groups and advocates said.

However, “before the government is formally turned over to new leadership, there is one crucial act that we, organizations and individuals from around the world, would like to support your leadership on,” the groups said in their statement address to Arroyo, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Nograles.

This is none other than the adoption of the FOI Act, which is “fundamental to the respect of all human rights, as well as to democracy.” As well, “transparency in the public sector enables meaningful participation, promotes accountability, mitigates corruption, and contributes to the realization of personal and collective goals.”

“As advocates of freedom of expression, of the press, and of information, we have been following closely the Philippine movement for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act.

The signatories cited that Article III, Section 7 of the Philippine Constitution “guarantees this key right, and we understand that this constitutional guarantee has been used in the Philippines to give direct effect to this right.”

But, they added, ”experience around the world demonstrates that implementing legislation is needed to give full effect to the right, including by spelling out procedures for its exercise and by describing the exceptions in detail.”

“A historic piece of legislation” if enacted, the groups said the FOI Act of the Philippines will become just the third such law in Southeast Asia. Only Thailand and Indonesia have enacted a right to information law,” they said. “Should the Philippine push succeed, this will not only benefit Filipinos but will also provide direction and momentum to the whole Southeast Asia region.”

Well aware that for lack of time, “the window of opportunity for passing the FOI Act is fast closing,” the FOI groups and advocates exhorted Arroyo, Enrile and Nograles to take on their leadership roles to assure its passage.

“We join Philippine groups advocating for the passage of the FOI Act in looking to your leadership as President of the Republic, Senate President, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, to ensure the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report when Congress resumes session on 24 May, and the signing of the FOI Act into law by the President immediately thereafter, the groups said.

“The international movement for free expression, press freedom, and the right to information assure you of our support,” the groups said. “We are in solidarity with the Filipino people in anticipating your success in adopting the Freedom Information Act.”

The following groups and advocates signed the joint statement addressed to Arroyo, Enrile and Nograles:

ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression; Acces-info Center (Moldova); Access Info Europe; Access to Information Programme (Bulgaria); Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia); Analytica Montenegrina (Montenegro); Arab Freedom of Information Network; Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo; Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression of Egypt;

Association of Civil Rights (Asociación por los Derechos Civiles) ; Association of Independent Electronic Media; Bahrain Center for Human Rights; Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC); Campaign for Freedom of Information (UK); Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Cartoonists Rights Network International; Center for Independent Journalism (Romania); Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; Center for Media Studies & Peace Building; Centre for Independent Journalism (Malaysia); Centre for Law and Democracy (Canada); Centro de Acceso a la Información de Uruguay;

Citizens' Campaign for Right to Information (Nepal); Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association; Exiled Journalists Network; Freedom Forum (Nepal); Freedom House; Freedom of Information Center (Armenia); Fundacion Pro Acceso; Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, A.C.; Globe International; Independent Journalism Center;

Index on Censorship; Information First (Nepal); Institute for Information Freedom Development (Russia); Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety; Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (Indonesia); International Federation of Journalists; Institute of Mass Information’

International Press Institute; Lebanese Transparency Association; Legal Aid Foundation (Indonesia); Media Foundation for West Africa; Media Institute of Southern Africa; Media Rights Agenda; Mizzima News; National Security Archive (USA); Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector - MANS (Montenegro)

Network for Reporting on Eastern Europe; Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation ; Pacific Freedom Forum; Pacific Islands News Association; Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms; Privacy International; PRO MEDIA (Macedonia); Public Association "Journalists"

Reporters Without Borders; South African History Archives; Southeast Asian Press Alliance; Sustentia, Spain; Transparência Brasil; Transparency International (Philippines); Transparency International – Secretariat; Transparency Program of OSI-AF (Azerbaijan); Water Governance Institute (Uganda); West African Journalists Association; World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters’

The individual signatories follow: Amin Shabana from Visi Anak Bangsa (VAB), Jakarta, Indonesia.; Atmakusumah Astraatmaja, Senior Journalist, Magsaysay Award Awardee; David Goldberg; DR. T. Mulya Lubis, Senior lawyer, Human rights activist; Goenawan Mohamad, Senior journalist; Heru Hendratmoko, Journalist, Program Director, Radio News Agency 68H;

Hon Andreas Parera MP, Parliament member, Indonesia (Ret.); Hon Helmy Fauzi MP, Parliament member, Indonesia; Hon Nursyahbani Katjasungkana MP, Parliament member, Indonesia (Ret.); Irawan Saptono, Executive Director, ISAI; Jaleswari Pramodawardhani, Military expert, Indonesian Institute of Sciences; Johnny Simanjuntak, Commissioner, National Commission of Human Rights (Indonesia);

Kyu Ho Youm, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon; Nezar Patria, Journalist, Chairman, AJI; Patra M. Zen, Lawyer, Human Rights activist; Santoso, Journalist, Chief Executive Director, Radio News Agency 68H; Tanti Budi Suryani, Tifa Foundation, Indonesia; Tedjabayu, Deputy Executive Director, ISAI;

Walter Keim, Norway; Wiratmo Probo, Program Director, ISAI; Yosep Adiprasetyo, Commissioner, Vice chairman, National Commission of Human Rights (Indonesia). – PCIJ, May 2010