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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.