CCJD on FOI

HANGING IN THE BALANCE

 With the Freedom of Information bill hanging in the balance, the Center for Community Journalism and Development is re-posting the Inquirer editorial of February 9 which essentially captures the predicament of meaningful and substantial legislative measures in a Congress preoccupied with partisan concerns. The CCJD urges colleagues, public interest groups and citizens to intensify efforts to have this bill passed by the 14th Congress.  Work for its passage started in the 11th Congress or period of 12 years. 

Freedom of information is important as it is a key component of democracy.  It gives flesh to Article II; Section 1 of the Constitution which states that “(T)hePhilippinesis a democratic and republican State.  Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

The Access to Information Network (ATIN) a broad coalition of media, public interest groups and advocates, says that the right to information is also a necessary condition for the effective exercise of other rights by the people.  The freedom of the press, of speech and expression, as well as the right to petition the government for redress of grievances can only be fully and responsibly exercised by an informed press and citizenry.     

The CCJD is a member of ATIN.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20100209-252089/Stranded

Stranded

Congress adjourned last week, bypassing more than a dozen important measures and committee reports. The Senate adjourned without doing anything on its last session day for lack of quorum. The House of Representatives adjourned also without acting on pending measures for lack of time and quorum.

Ostensibly, the minority boycotted the last session day of the Senate to prevent the consideration of a resolution which would censure Sen. Manuel Villar, Nacionalista Party presidential candidate, on the C-5 road controversy. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she joined the minority boycott to block alleged attempts to pass two controversial bills. One seeks to reorganize the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and give its board chair security of tenure. It would have the effect of preventing the new president from appointing a new Pagcor head. The other measure would reorganize the National Telecommunications Commission. Santiago said the NTC bill would have far-reaching consequences because the agency has control over the importation of signal jammers that could disrupt the operation of poll automation machines, cell phones, radios and other telecommunication devices and tools.

Two committee reports that were bypassed were the Senate committee of the whole’s report on the C-5 road controversy and the Senate blue ribbon committee’s report on the controversial $329-million NBN-ZTE deal which says President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is “answerable” for the “stinking” deal.

Other measures bypassed were the proposed Freedom of Information Act, Reproductive Health Bill, a New Central Bank Act, LPG Regulation and Safety Act, Cybercrime Prevention Act, Early Voting Bill, Proposed Philippine Tax Academy and an Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Right of Reply Bill.

It is unfortunate that the Freedom of Information Act was not passed because the final measure was the product of months of hearings, deliberations and debates in the Senate and House and in the bicameral conference committee. It would have given flesh to the spirit of the constitutional provision that says that the people have the right of access to information “subject to such limitations as may be defined by law.” If the measure is not passed before the 14th Congress finally adjourns in June, it will have to be re-filed and will have to go again through the congressional mill. But it is good that the Right of Reply Bill which would have restricted freedom of the press was not passed.

The bypassed Reproductive Health Bill would have allowed the promotion of both natural and artificial birth control methods in government health centers. It is a very controversial measure, and apparently many legislators did not want to touch it because they did not want to antagonize the Catholic Church at a time when they are running for reelection.

The Central Bank bill, the Cybercrime bill, the LPG industry regulation bill, the early voting bill, the proposed Philippine Tax Academy and the bill on the crime of involuntary disappearance are all well-intentioned measures. But they were not passed largely because of lack of quorum in both the Senate and the House, and the lack of quorum was caused principally by partisan maneuverings.

The Senate and the House may yet have an opportunity to redeem themselves and pass the beneficial and uncontroversial measures during the session from May 31 to June 4 when the canvassing of the presidential election returns start.

The majority and opposition groups in the Senate could come to a gentleman’s agreement that they will not consider the resolution on the C-5 road controversy until the last one day or two days of the session, after they shall have acted on the important pending measures. The leadership of the House, for their part, could try their best to muster a quorum so that the chamber could pass pending measures and ratify some bicameral committee reports.

Members of Congress are elected by their constituents to pass laws, not to get embroiled forever in partisan wrangling and maneuvers. It’s time they really earned the millions that the suffering taxpayers are paying them in salaries, allowances, pork barrel and other perks. It’s time they did some real work and passed the pending important measures.
“People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” V for Vendetta.

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