News / Asia

Filipinos Seek Stronger Freedom of Information Guarantee

FILE: Protesters wear black plastic bags to symbolize injustice during a rally marking World Press Freedom Day, in Manila, Philippines.
FILE: Protesters wear black plastic bags to symbolize injustice during a rally marking World Press Freedom Day, in Manila, Philippines.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III campaigned for office in 2010 on the need for more freedom of information, and last week he assured the public he'd support such legislation before his term ends in 2016.  

But advocates, who’ve sought passage of more clearly defined information rights for almost three decades, aren’t leaving this to chance.

A coalition of press associations and civil society and business groups recently launched a signature drive to show support for the legislation, which the Philippine Congress has considered for more than two years.

Advocates see it as a means of strengthening democracy, said Nepomuceno Malaluan, co-director of the Institute for Freedom of Information in Manila.

He helped organize the Right to Know Right Now Coalition.

While the Philippines’ constitution already guarantees its citizens the right to information, the provision is vague and unevenly enforced, he said.

It lacks “details with respect to the scope … the definite procedure to access information and also the sanctions in case the right is violated,” he said. "Sometimes you get very open agencies. Sometimes you get very closed agencies. Sometimes [responses are] based on the kind of information you are requesting.”

The country’s Supreme Court currently determines scope on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Strengthening rights

The pending legislation would strengthen the constitutional guarantee, Malaluan said. Among other things, it would categorize information that should be shared automatically, create an official process for information requests, and outline sanctions for government agencies that don't comply.

Malaluan said the Philippine Senate has completed its version of FOIA legislation and awaits a House version. He hopes they’ll advance to be reconciled, with legislation sent on to Aquino.

"We believe that overall this has gone through a very long balancing process between competing interests and it has come out as a very reasonable, progressive bill,” Malaluan said, adding the Senate and House versions “are not very far apart."

Opponents argue the bill is unnecessary because the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, who campaigned on a platform of greater government transparency, already has taken steps to advance openness and fight corruption. They say new legislation could jeopardize national security or individuals by making personal information more readily accessible to thieves or irresponsible media.

Malaluan dismisses those arguments, saying he suspects some politicians fear more effective legislation might erode their base of power.

Model legislation

At least 80 countries have national laws recognizing the right to public records, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility in Manila reports.

Nineteen Asian countries have such legislation, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia and Pakistan.

Pakistan has a federal freedom of information law, passed in 2002, and specific laws for each of its four provinces, said Raza Gardezi of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, a nonprofit based in Karachi.

But Gardezi called the federal law weak. The Pakistani government claimed many exemptions to releasing information, he said, and added “a clause that says the government can classify any information it deems for state security.”

Gardezi said the Pakistani federal law has other shortcomings: no punishment for government agencies that don’t comply, and an appeals process that requires going through a government ombudsman. He said the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa offered stronger models for reforming federal law.

In the Philippines, FOIA advocates say they’re striving for a legislative tool similar to the one in the United States, which implemented its Freedom of Information Act in 1967.

The U.S. law lays out clear standards and guidelines for access to information, making the government accountable to its people, said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes open governance around the globe.

"By and large, the American law is a strong blueprint and has been a very strong tool for the press and activists alike,” Wonderlich said.

Even with that measure, requests often meet long delays and government agencies frequently claim exceptions to release requirements, Wonderlich said, noting ongoing efforts to improve FOIA.

“For us, the Freedom of Information Act is really fundamental to how we think about democracy and accountability.”

You May Like

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs