BENIGNO S. AQUINO III
President of the Philippines
Hon. Paquito Ochoa
Hon. Julia Abad
Presidential Chief of Staff
Hon. Edwin Lacierda
Subject: Appeal for Inclusion of the Passage of the Freedom of Information Act as one of the President’s Priority Measures for the 15th Congress
Dear Mr. President:
We are members of the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition, a network of organizations and individuals from various sectors that have long been campaigning for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act. We count among our ranks public-interest groups, organizations of print and broadcast journalists, environmental protection advocates, farmers organizations and support groups, women’s organizations, private and public sector labor unions, migrant workers, businessmen, lawyers, academics, student and youth organizations, and concerned individuals.
We join the rest of the country in hopeful anticipation of your first State of the Nation Address. We look to your SONA to clearly spell out for the government sector the policy choices that your administration will implement in order to bring to fruition the governance direction that you set in your inaugural speech.
In this regard, we respectfully appeal to you to include the 14th Congress Bicameral Conference Committee version of the Freedom of Information Act as one of the priority legislative measures that you will urge, in your SONA, the 15th Congress to pass in order to help you meet your aspirations for the country.
In the House of Representatives, this version has already been re-filed as House Bill No. 53 by Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III. With your unequivocal support for its immediate passage, there should be no reason for the 15th Congress not to be able to respond promptly and decisively. This version of the draft law had been discussed in public consultation meetings and had gone through the entire legislative process in the 14th Congress, save for the ratification of the bicam report by the House of Representatves. It has taken into consideration the legitimate concerns of government agencies without compromising the integrity of the people’s right to information. The new senators and congressmen will do well not to repeat the full deliberations so they can save valuable time and even more valuable taxpayers’ money.
We attach herewith a copy of the bicam version of this draft law. As a member of the Senate that ratified it, we have no doubt that you are one with us in recognizing that this bicameral conference committee report is as progressive and as reasonable as a Freedom of Information Act could get. It provides a standard and definite procedure for dealing with requests for information. It clearly defines a narrow list of exceptions, carefully balancing the public interest in broad disclosure with the public interest in keeping certain information secret. It secures for citizens concurrent remedies in cases of denial of access to information. It provides implementing mechanics for the public disclosure of a list of important government transactions, without need of request from anyone. It provides criminal and administrative sanctions for violation of the right to information. Finally, it introduces numerous mechanisms for the active promotion of openness in government. All these directly address the operational gaps that have made the Constitutional right to information and the state policy of full disclosure of government transactions involving public interest extremely difficult to enforce in practice.
Even as we await the immediate passage of the Freedom of Information Act, we also hope your administration will observe active disclosure policies in its decisions and transactions, notably appointments, contracts, executive agreements, borrowing, and spending. As advocates, we are ready to sit in consultation with officials of your administration to humbly share our thoughts and perspectives on how we can contribute to putting this policy into effect.
As citizens, we do not intend to be mere beneficiaries of reform; we are determined to take active participation in the reform process. But we need an enabling legal environment to be able to effectively do so.
We dream of an empowered and vigilant citizenry that will make full and responsible use of the right to information, to secure what is rightfully ours in terms of government services, to exact accountability from government officials in the use of public funds and the exercise of governmental powers, and to facilitate the effective exercise of other rights of citizenship such as participation in policy-making.
Mr. President, we look to your leadership to empower us to realize our collective dream. We need the Freedom of Information Act now.
Very truly yours,
Right to Know. Right Now!