Source: The Daily Tribune
Protests and not com-mendations would likely meet President Aquino when he speaks before the Open Government Partnership (OGP) conference in New York as part of his official visit to the United States from Sept. 18 to 23 as a result of his administration’s failure to give priority to the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill which had failed to hurdle Congress for the past 15 years.
A local government trans-parency group called Right to Know, Right Now (RKRN) Coalition, which is made up of 150 organizations and individuals, added the draft action plan that Aquino will present in the OGP regarding the FoI bill lacks “firm and credible commitment” for its passage.
Aquino was invited by US President Barack Obama and Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff to the OGP’s official launch. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the OGP, which is a new multilateral initiative to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance, has Obama and Rousseff as co-chairmen.
The Philippines is one of only eight countries, and one of only two from Asia, which is a member of the steering committee of OGP.
The other seven countries are: the US, Brazil, UK, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway and South Africa. The steering committee members were selected based on the following criteria: fiscal transparency, access to information, disclosures related to elected officials, and citizen engagement.
On Sept. 20, Aquino is expected to deliver the keynote address at the OGP conference in New York, sign an Open Government Declaration, and submit an Action Plan on his administration’s commitment to open government practices.
The group said while it welcomes the country’s membership in the OGP steering committee, reflecting Aquino’s desire to assume a place “in the international stage as one of the leading lights of transparency and accountability in the world,” his administration’s commitment to the OGP can be measured by the Action Plan to be submitted to the conference which it described as lacking commitment on the enactment of the FoI bill.
“We do not find comfort in the draft plan’s statement that your government will strive for the passage of a Freedom of Information Act within the current presidency. With all due respect, in our view it has been the ambiguous and vague statements coming from your office regarding the passage of the Freedom of Information bill that has been the main reason why it is now languishing in the House of
Representatives, and moving at a snail’s pace in the Senate,” the group wrote Aquino.
The letter said despite repeated appeals for Aquino’s endorsement, and months of work by a Malacañang study group on the FOI bill, the group has not seen any appreciable advance in Aquino’s position.
The draft Philippine Government Action Plan to be presented to the OGP was prepared by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, in consultation with other Cabinet members.
RKRN said the draft Philippine Action Plan focuses on four main areas for the scaling up of open government commitments in the national budget, local governance, procurement, and poverty reduction programs.
“On the whole, we support the scaling up of open government initiatives by the Philippines in these areas. Our member organizations are striving to be more directly engaged in these areas to this day,” according to the group.
The group said it had conveyed to Abad its hope that future consultations on the OGP will be substantially widened to surface areas where acute problems of transparency and accountability need scaled-up response.
“The areas so far concentrated on by the draft action plan are the ones led by members of your cabinet who have shown greater commitment to transparency, where civil society organizations and donor agencies have historically vigorously engaged the Philippine government on, where multi-stakeholder transparency mechanisms have gained traction in, and where certain disclosure practices have been introduced even years ahead of the birth of your administration,” the group said.
According to he draft action plan, the government will strive for the passage of a Freedom of Information Act within the current presidency and “pending this, it will develop and issue an
executive-wide policy to improve access to information – including requirements for accurate, timely and understandable summary disclosures by government departments through their websites – within
The group, however, said an executive order (EO) will not be able to settle the gaps in the limits of access coverage and exceptions, as this is a legislative matter.
The application of such an EO will be limited to the executive, even as access issues are present
as well in the other branches of government and in independent constitutional bodies.
It also cannot prescribe sanctions that are penal in nature, the group said.
“We did consider such executive order to be a good interim measure at the start of your term, under the premise that you would categorically and unambiguously support the immediate passage of the FOI law. But at this point where we seem to be endlessly running after your elusive concerns, we see the said executive-wide policy as only justifying the further delay in the passage of the FOI law,” the group told Aquino.
It said a crucial starting point for Aquino is for the Action Plan to express full, firm, and explicit commitment to the immediate passage of the FOI law in the present Congress, and within the remaining months of 2011, to present to Congress proposed amendments on the FOI bill.
“It is the presence or absence of such commitment that will determine for us whether we will view the action plan and your OGP activities in New York as facilitating a significant scaling up of transparency mechanisms and practices, or sadly, only legitimizing your transparency comfort zone and your ignoring of the long standing people’s clamor for an FOI law,” according to the group.