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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs