TEAM RP urges Senate to pass FOI bill
August 29, 2008
In the past months, TEAM RP, a youth-led reform-oriented group, has worked closely with the Access to Information Network (ATIN) and the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN) in ensuring the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill. The bill (HB3732) passed the Lower House’s third reading last May 12, 2008 and is still pending in the Senate.
“It’s unfortunate that the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media has canceled two previously scheduled hearings,” Atty. Eirene Aguila, TEAM RP Chair said. “The recent controversies we faced were, in one way or another, caused by lack of transparency and access to information, so all the more should the Senate prioritize this bill. This would help prevent similar issues from happening again.”
The Senate committee is headed by Senator Ramon Revilla, Jr. Similar bills on Freedom of Information were already filed in the Senate since it opened its first regular session after the 2007 mid-term elections.
“The right of the people to be informed should no longer be left to the sheer discretion of the Court, the inertia of the lawmakers and the caprices of our public officials,” Atty. Aguila added. She said that the absence of FOI makes it difficult even for government agencies to access documents from other government agencies.
The FOI campaign has since been TEAM RP’s main policy advocacy. Last March 10, 2008, TEAM RP launched an online signature campaign, dubbed “Sa Totoo Tayo”, to petition Congress to urgently pass the Freedom of Information Law to provide explicit procedures in allowing public access to government documents.
Last March 14, TEAM RP held a “truth caravan” in the University Belt area, Intramuros and some schools in Quezon City in line with the campaign. It has collected 1000 online and 1500 offline signatures from the “truth caravan”. TEAM RP continued to visit schools, held education sessions in communities and gathered signatures for the petition until May this year.
Atty. Aguila also pointed out that, in line with TEAM RP’s cornerstone principles of Truth, Accountability and Reform, the group has been consistent in criticizing any effort to conceal public information, especially of anomalous deals. TEAM RP has been critical of Malacañang’s policy on Executive Privilege.
“Malacañang’s policy gives a blanket license with ambiguous parameters to officials to evade the reach of both the oversight and legislative powers of the Senate,” Atty. Eirene Aguila said. “If the Palace is serious on taking the role as the main crusader against graft and corruption, it should be at the forefront of enacting transparency measures, not finding ways to hide from public scrutiny.”
TEAM RP was particularly vocal that the Supreme Court decision on Executive Privilege last April left the people with more suspicion and growing unrest than certainty on the issue. TEAM RP said that, in effect, the SC decision has left the entire nation to continue doubting the Arroyo government.
But Atty. Aguila reiterated that the decision highlighted some fundamental aspects of governance that should be seriously considered by both the executive and legislative branches. “We would not be in this dilemma had our executive officials provided for effective transparency measures and espoused a policy of full and authentic public disclosure and also had our legislators focused their efforts in aid of legislation, we would have resulted in laws supporting the people’s right to know, which makes the FOI bill all the more an urgent matter” she said.
“What You Don’t Know Is Hurting You”, a public forum on the Freedom to Information Bill, has been organized by TEAM RP together with The Assembly, Ateneo’s Political Science Organization, and Young Public Servants, the youth-arm of the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov). The forum is part of the “Sa Totoo Tayo” campaign. For more information visit satotootayo.blogspot.com.
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