Re: 2012 as the year that the Philippines gets its Freedom of Information Law

r2klogo[Note: In preparation for the coming of the International Right to Know Day (28 September), SEAPA sent this letter to the Philippine President, Senate President and House Speaker on 13 September to support Philippine civil society groups advocating for a Freedom of Information Law in the country.]

We represent the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a regional network of media freedom and free expression advocacy groups in the region, with members in Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, and partners in most of the countries in the region.

SEAPA wishes to express our solidarity with people of the Philippines in demanding you to exercise your power to speed up the Philippine Congress’ passage of the pending Freedom of Information Act once and for all.

We believe there is no excuse for delaying the immediate passage of such bill, now that all reasonable concerns regarding the balance between the people’s exercise of this right under the proposed legislation and the responsibility of the state has been adequately addressed by the President’s advisory team and the Congress.

The people of the Philippines deserve the full effect of this right, having fought tirelessly for the last 14 years to get this law out of the legislative labyrinth, which has done nothing but keep successive politicians and governments away from effective public scrutiny.

The immediate adoption of the right to information legislation is just one last but crucial step to fill in a missing piece that will keep Philippines’ democracy intact and its economy edge—which is the state transparency and accountability.

The country’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index has improved from the rank of 134 out of 178 in 2010 to 129 out of 183 countries, thanks in part to the government’s campaign for good governance. Any delay in the enactment of the legislation will bode ill for the successful execution of the President’s anti-corruption and good governance campaign.

The right to information, as enshrined in the Philippines’1987 Constitution together with other fundamental rights, has long been tested by the will power of the people. It is now imperative that the government fulfills its obligation to legislate the exercise of access to information to ensure clear-cut and predictable accessible administrative procedures so that people can access to relevant public documents on demand and within the reasonable timeframe in making informed choices in their daily lives and better addressing their basic needs.

We are convinced that beyond the current administration’s pledge to open itself up to public scrutiny, the immediate enactment of the FOI law is a better assurance to effectively empower the people to protect themselves against government abuses and hold it accountable to its promises and actions that affect the public.

As a leading democratic nation in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the potential to raise the regional benchmark on advancements made in strengthening the institutions and legislative frameworks related to the promotion and upholding of democratic principles.

We wish to support the Right to Know Right Now movement in the Philippines for Congress to adopt the bill within this 15th session that ends in June 2013 and we also call upon the government to demonstrate its commitment to its pledges by pushing for the enactment of this legislation.

Sincerely,

Gayathry Venkiteswaran, Executive Director