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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More