Right to know

    “SUBJECT TO reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.”

    So mandates Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution (Declaration of Principles and State Policies).

    “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.

    So holds Article III, Section 7 (Bill of Rights).

    The Constitution was promulgated in 1987 yet. To flesh out the above-cited provisions, House Bill 3732 or The Freedom of Access to Information legislation was first introduced in Congress five years after, in 1992.

    Eighteen long years after, it came “extremely close” to final passage in the still extant 14th Congress. Only to be frustrated by the stalemated canvassing of the election tallies for the presidential and vice presidential races.

    “What do you want us to do? Stop the canvassing? We are calling for a session not for legislation but for the purpose of canvassing. I don’t think it is possible to add anything other than canvassing. We have June 30 anyway.”

    So ranted House Speaker Prospero Nograles, reiterating that Congress “had agreed to resume its session a week earlier than scheduled solely for the canvassing of votes for the top two elective posts.”

    The papers even reported Nograles as having warned supporters of the bill not to “pressure” him into passing the measure before the 14th Congress made its final adjournment.

    Ululated Nograles – as the news stories recounted: “I am not the author of this. This is not my baby. Like all laws that could not be accommodated, you have to refile it… I’m just one vote. Don’t pressure me. Let us see if we can insert it in the session.”

    Yeah, the irritability of a sore election loser coming out of Nograles there.

    No, we do not propose here that Congress put precedence on the Freedom of Access to Information Bill over the canvassing of the election tallies. But for the sake of the people too, can’t Congress find time to do what could just be some ministerial act to enact the bill into law?

    After all, the Freedom of Access to Information bill has already been approved by the bicameral conference committee and ratified by the Senate. Only the House ratification is needed to have it signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

    For the sake of the people, we wrote above, if only to underscore the signal importance of the bill.

    Read what the joint foreign chambers of commerce and industry had to say: “As you know, foreign direct investment in the Philippines is much too low, in part because of the perceptions of corruption in the country. New investors frequently consult the foregoing indexes when considering where to locate their overseas investments… As a result of the declining ranking of the Philippines, many needed jobs that could have been created in the country have not been.”

    That slide will be arrested, the joint foreign chambers believed, with the ratification of the Freedom of Access to Information bill, and will “ultimately help shore up foreign direct investments in the country.”

    Read what 67 local and international organizations who are championing the bill wrote: “As advocates of freedom of expressions, of the press, and of information, we have been following closely the Philippine movement for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act… We view the adoption of legislation giving effect to the right to information as fundamental to the respect of all human rights, as well as to democracy.”

    Yes, the very essence of democracy rightfully invoked there.

    A Freedom of Access to Information Act will make available to the citizens all public records in print, sound or visual form.

    It mandates all government agencies to upload all contracts or transactions on the Web. This is considered as a deterrence to corruption in the bureaucracy.

    The Act requires government agencies to make available to the public “scrutiny, copying and reproduction, all information pertaining to official acts, transactions as well as government research data used as basis for policy development regardless of their physical form or format in which they are contained and by whom they were made.”

    Any denial of any request for information requires the government agency to notify the person making the request of such denial in writing or through electronic means within seven days from the receipt of the request.

    That denial is appealable to the agency concerned 15 days from the notice of denial. The Office of the Ombudsman can be asked to resolve the appeal in 60 days.

    Read news reports of the other provisions: “A penalty of imprisonment of one to six months, not less than one month but not more than six months awaits those who would violate the proposed legislation.

    “The bill sets out clearly defined and reasonable exceptions, including matters dealing with national defense and security, ongoing foreign affairs negotiations, trade secrets, drafts of executive orders and personal information.

    “To safeguard against government abuse of these exceptions, the proposed law says an agency should specify the public interest sought to be protected by the nondisclosure of information.

    Second, there is a legal presumption in favor of access to information.

    Third, those who request information have the opportunity to show that the public interest in the disclosure outweighs the harm to the public interest sought to be prevented by the exceptions.

    Fourth, any public officer or employee claiming an exception under the act faces criminal liability if it is shown that the claim is manifestly devoid of factual basis.

    Access to information is empowerment. Uphold the right to know. Ratify the Freedom of Access to Information Bill NOW!


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