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Even with no formal Freedom of Information Act, the Philippines is “one of the most open countries in the region”, a global survey conducted in 2006 revealed.
The survey, carried out by David Banisar, also reported that the “openness” is in fact embodied in the 1973 Constitution and later expanded in the 1987 Constitution which provides in Article III, Section 7, the following:
“The right of the people to information of matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records and 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.”
The absence of a formal FOI Act is filled up by the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees which sets out the requirements for “full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest” that will “ensure transparency and openness.”
It is however in the creation of exemptions for information and documents where the problem lies.
Access to information, especially by non-media, has many problems.
“These include a lack of a uniform procedure to obtain information from bodies, a ‘fluid’ scope of right due to changing government policies, limited sanctions, inadequate remedies to require disclosure, and a lack of a culture of transparency in government bodies,” the survey stated.
These issues had been addressed as far back as 10 years ago.
In 2002, civil society groups formed the Access to Information Network to press for the adoption of an FOI law. In the past several Congresses, numerous bills have been introduced but thus far none had been approved.
The passage of a Freedom of Information act will undergo another test this month — more focused on how to find a compromise with regard to provisions for exemptions.
Rep. Ben Evardone, public information committee chairman in the lower house, last month was quoted as saying that he was trying to come up with ‘an acceptable formula on the conflicting provisions of the FOI indicating that the FOI bill would be tabled after President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address this month (July 23).
According to reports, the leading Senate figure on the bill is Sen. Gregorio Honasan who was quoted as saying the Senate ‘will do this as expeditiously as possible.’
Centre for Law and Democracy Executive Director Toby Mendel said, “We hoped that with the new President, who is more supportive, the law would go through, but we are again facing the possibility that time might run out (this Congress ends in May next year),”
“The draft on the table is one that civil society groups in the Philippines support, and it also takes into account some concerns of the President. We have also rated it using our RTI Rating, and it did well (102 points).
“Nepomuceno Malaluan, the Co-Convenor of the leading civil society grouping in the Philippines, the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition, has written to me asking for international support at this crucial time.
“I am attaching a letter that we are asking organisations and individuals to sign onto. We would like to put it to the President before his State of the Nation Address on 23 July, so we need your support by 18 July. Please respond positively to this important call for support from our colleagues in the Philippines (and encourage others to sign on too)!”
Ed’s Notes: To view the letter, please click here. Then email toby [at] law-democracy [dot] org to register your support.