08 December 2009
On 7 December 2009, the Senate approved on second reading Senate Bill 3308, or the Freedom of Information Act. With time fast running out on the 14th Congress, we appealed to our Senators not to kill the bill. They delivered; the country is now a giant step closer to the passage of a progressive and responsive freedom of information act.
We, representatives of over 100 organizations and coalitions from various sectors comprising the Right to Know. Right Now! Campaign, express our congratulations and deep gratitude to the Senate, under the leadership of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, for pulling through for the Filipino people.
We especially express our congratulations and deep gratitude to Senator
Alan Peter Cayetano for decisively shepherding the bill through the
committee process, and with Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, for
taking it forward in plenary. We thank Senator Joker Arroyo and Senator
Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. for their statesmanship in withdrawing their
additional interpellation to quicken the pace of the bill. We thank the
various bill authors for providing the measure the bipartisan support
that it needs. With the interventions of Senator Miriam Defensor
Santiago and Senator Arroyo in interpellation, and the amendments
introduced by Senators Santiago and Escudero and by the committee, the
Senate has done its legislative duty of ensuring a robust measure.
We renew our congratulations and gratitude to the Lower House under the
leadership of Speaker Prospero Nograles for passing its counterpart
measure, House Bill 3732. We especially thank Representative Erin
Tañada, chairman of the Technical Working Group in the House Committee
on Public Information, for his decisiveness and efficiency in pushing
for the bill’s passage even before the close of the first regular
session. This allowed the Senate sufficient time to review the bill. In
this endeavor Rep. Tañada had help from Representatives Joel
Villanueva, Del De Guzman, Riza Hontiveros, Satur Ocampo, Bienvenido
Abante Jr., Juan Edgardo Angara, and other authors of the bill.
When finally passed into law, the Freedom of Information Act will make
the Constitutional right to know and the state policy of full
disclosure of transactions involving public interest fully operable.
While the right to information has been held by the courts to be
executory, it is difficult to enforce in practice. There is no standard
procedure in dealing with requests. There is no law clarifying the
exact scope of the right. The state policy requiring government to
fully disclose transactions involving public interest does not have the
implementing mechanics. There are no effective sanctions to deter or
make accountable the violation of the right. As a result, requests for
information are routinely disregarded or denied based on arbitrary
We cannot overemphasize the vital role that a Freedom of Information
Act will play in the maturation of Philippine society and politics.
Freedom of information gives flesh to the principle that public office
is a public trust. Without proper information, we cannot hold public
officials accountable for anything. Freedom of Information is also a
necessary condition for the effective exercise of other rights by the
people. The freedom of the press, of speech and expression, as well as
the right to petition the government for redress of grievances can only
be fully and responsibly exercised by an informed press and citizenry.
The same is true for the right of the people and their organizations to
effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social,
political, and economic decision making.
Even as we acknowledge the giant step forward afforded by our
legislators in passing the bill on second reading, we cannot pause even
for a moment. The clock is still ticking fast. Amid the cry for justice
for the victims of the gruesome murder of journalists and civilians in
Maguindanao, and under the dark cloud of Martial Law, we claim our
freedom of information. Now more than ever we need to secure for the
people the political rights that both empower and protect.
We call on the Senate to sustain the momentum by immediately approving
the bill on third reading. We call on both Houses of Congress to
forthwith name their respective representatives and convene the
bicameral conference committee for this measure and finally approve the
act for signing and approval by the President.
We call on other groups to join us in the fight for what is guaranteed
to us by the Constitution. We ask you to march with us to the Senate on
Monday, 14 December, to assert our freedom of information, to thank our
Senators, and to sustain the momentum for the long-overdue passage of
the Freedom of Information Act. Let it be the lasting contribution of
the 14th Congress and of all of us to political and governance reform
in the country, to benefit our generation, and the generations to
8 December 2009.