How FOI becomes personal
It has been two days since both Senate and Congress ended the last day of session. The 14th Congress ended with a bang. The bang of Nograles’ gavel crushed the 14-year struggle for citizen’s right to information. You see, 14th Congress will be forever etched as the killer of Freedom of Information bill. Also, the same Congress where FOI reached the farthest and only to be dropped like a potato on the last chance of being ratified.
Personally, the campaign started as I was assigned to a new task in Information Services Department. One of our partners in Manila was currently involved in FOI campaign and they tapped AFRIM to be part of it. Thus, the job fell on my lap. At first, I was a bit hesitant and distinctly remembered the first meeting we initiated. With all honesty, I didn’t know how to proceed with the meeting. Good thing those present members were veteran advocates and they suggested good strategies to jump off the campaign. The morning of 18 January 2010 will be memorable. It was the day when I participated a weekly press conference armed with rush reading on FOI bill and very limited knowledge on legal terms. To make it short, I survived after two hours and was able to land on city’s leading dailies and a local television station.
At that time, the Congress was yet to submit representatives for the bicameral committee hearing to reconcile of Senate and House versions of the bill. In the remaining days of Congress, the bicameral report was finished immediately. A feat for any bill. However, the last three days of House was filled with bickering and lack of quorum which left the bill unratified as Congress adjourned for elections. Thus, the chances of FOI is getting slimmer. The Senate, on the other hand, had ratified and compensated well the slow progress they manifested in earlier stages.
The campaign is now focused on the House particularly to Speaker Prospero Nograles, Davao City’s first district representative. In the same manner, greater attention was geared in Right to Know, Right Now! Mindanao specifically in Davao City. As one of the convenors, we held two fora on FOI, one in University of Southeastern Philippines and another in Ateneo de Davao University. Mobilizations were also conducted. One in Freedom Park during the resume of the Congress when Nograles simply put that nothing will be done but canvassing for president and vice president. Another mobilization last Thursday in Nograles’ office urging him to fully support the bill no matter what.
But last Friday, the bill was finally laid to rest. I was following Congressman Ruffy Biazon’s tweets updating on the session. Since we had a short program in the office, I lost track of updates. Only to receive a message from a partner asking for my reactions. My first words were not printable, so she said. I cursed a lot which I seldom did. The sad reality of how FOI almost made it was hard to bear. I could no longer follow the ongoing sharing of the staff. My mind seemed to burst on the injustice and unfairness of those so-called honorables. How come a seven-member short for a quorum be a reason for scrapping out of such an important bill? The Arroyos being absent reinforced common beliefs of Palace hand in the session despite their usual denials. By the way, another blog on our very own representative being absent on that day will follow soon.
The 14th Congress preferred to be remembered as the suppressor of basic rights of the people they supposed to represent. The news hit the headlines as media generously elaborated the issue and instilled in people’s consciousness the importance of the bill.
Still, hope of fellow advocates springs eternal. All of us are willing to pass the needle’s eye to have this basic right fulfilled. Right now, we look up on Aquino administration for this ever important bill. And Noynoy said he will.
Only then I realized that FOI had an impact on me. It became my personal advocacy.
In the meantime, I will continue joining the call: