Lawmakers urged: Ratify the Freedom of Information act now!

With just five Congress session days to go, a broad coalition of over 100 media, civil society and nongovernment organizations yesterday urged senators and congressmen to set aside partisan politics this week and ratify the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as a unanimous vote for good governance and stronger democratic institutions.

In a statement, the Right to Know Right Now! Network also commended the members of the Congress Bicameral Conference Committee that approved the FOI Act “not only with efficiency and dispatch, but also with the responsibility and care to introduce even further refinements” to reconcile the two chambers’ respective bills.

“After long struggle, the passage of the Freedom of Information Act is finally near at hand,” the Network said, adding that it would take just a few minutes for the two chambers to ratify the Bicameral Conference Committee Report.

“For a few minutes of session on Tuesday or Wednesday (January 26 or 27), we count on our senators and congressmen to set aside political contentions that go with the coming elections, and unanimously ratify the Freedom of Information Act,” the Network said.

Last January 18, at the resumption of session, about 1,000 Network members marched to the House to exhort lawmakers to rally behind the bill. The group met with Speaker Prospero Nograles, and Representatives Bienvenido Abante Jr. and Eduardo Zialcita, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the House Committee on Public Information. Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III, chair of the committee’s technical working group, and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez attended the meeting.

Nograles later named the four lawmakers, as well as Representatives Rodolfo Antonino, Jesus Crispin Remulla, Rodante Marcoleta, Joel Villanueva, and. Cinchona Cruz-Gonzales to the House panel in the Bicameral Conference Committee.

Last January 20, the Committee met at the Senate with their panel counterparts, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Juan Miguel Zubiri. Abante, Zialcita, Tañada, Antonino, and Cruz-Gonzales attended for the House.

But with only five session days to go before Congress adjourns on February 8 for the election campaign, the Right to Know Right Now! Network said lawmakers should act as promptly to ratify the Committee’s report.

“We look to the Senate and to the House of Representatives to complete the final legislative actions on the bill this week,” the Network said.

With efficient work from the Committee secretariats, the Senate panel has already signed the Bicameral Conference Committee Report and only the House panel members have to sign on. “We look forward to the filing of the signed Report and to its distribution to our Senators and Representatives as promptly.”

The Freedom of Information Act will address the substantive and procedural gaps that prevent full exercise of the people’s right to know and secure documents from public agencies.

Just as well, the Network said the proposed law lays down definite procedures for access, enumerates clearly the information that government may validly keep secret, spells out the remedies in cases of denial, imposes penalties for unlawful violation of our right to information, requires the automatic disclosure of important government transactions, and establishes mechanisms for the active promotion of openness in government.

“When finally signed into law by the President, we have no doubt that the Freedom of Information Act will be a strategic and most significant contribution of the 14th Congress to the fundamental renewal of public institutions in our country,” the Network said.

Apart from the PCIJ, 113 other organizations of workers, farmers and fisher folk, urban poor, civil servants, migrant workers, women, youth and students, educators, businessmen, development NGOs, and advocates of various public policy issues are members of the Right to Know Right Now! Network.  – PCIJ, January 2010