People need to understand how making information available will affect their lives positively. There should be a complementary and parallel effort to educate people on how to use information to their advantage," said Congresswoman Leni Robredo at a forum entitled A Week Before the SONA: State of the Freedom of Information Bill on 21 July 2014 at The Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City. Third District of Camarines Sur Representative Robredo is the author of House Bill 3237 on Freedom of Information.
Freedom of Information (FOI) advocates from government, media, business, and civil society discussed "idealism vs. real politik" in an effort to make a final push for the inclusion of the FOI in President Aquino's State of the Nation Address (SONA) next Monday, 28 July 2014. Aquino has never mentioned the Freedom of Information bill in his last four SONA, but the President, last week, stated that he would ensure the passage of the bill before the end of his term.
In her keynote speech, Senator Grace Poe said that "the true value of FOI is not only that it will prevent graft and corruption. It will teach our people to participate and get involved and ultimately, transform them into true stakeholders in their government."
Poe added that the resistance to FOI emanates from the "'mis-appreciation' of the crowd and the misconception that FOI will lead be disruptive to government operations. For some people, this 'wisdom of the crowd' concept is counter-intuitive, erroneous even, because we have been taught to believe that people more intelligent than us know better. I am not one of those people."
Liberal International President Juli Minoves participated in the debate. "Freedom of Information is not a privilege, it is a right. Politicians need to learn that criticism is a price of democracy," said Minoves, who was Andorra's Foreign Minister.
Right to Know Right Now Co-Convenor Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan clarified that while the right to information is embedded in the Philippine Constitution, an FOI law will provide more predictability in government's response to requests for information. "An FOI Act is a very important tool to diminish business being chancy in the Philippines. It is an excellent chance to institutionalize reform," said Former Finance Secretary and Makati Business Club Vice Chairman Dr. Roberto de Ocampo.
ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) News Manager Nadia Trinidad emphasized media's responsibility in interpreting, digging through and digesting information, and in being enterprising with how it presents news. Trinidad described the importance of framing news in such a way that they "hit at a gut-level." Malaluan responded that FOIA "will also make people less dependent on media, transfer power to the hands of ordinary citizens."
Other speakers in the forum included German Ambassador H.E. Thomas Ossowski, who underlined the importance of freedom of information now that communication has become such an important element of everyday life with internet and social media. The discussion was facilitated by journalists Vergel Santos and John Nery.
The event was also an occasion to present the study conducted by social news media Rappler, analyzing FOI laws of 15 selected countries. The study identified the gaps in the FOI Bill in the Philippines, namely: selective access, no oversight, no penalties, and no clear process of appeals. A series of articles describing the results of the study in detail will be published on Rappler beginning 21 July 2014.
At least 95 countries have enacted an FOI legislation as of 2013. Out of 49 Asian countries, only 15 have FOI laws, and only two in Southeast Asia (Thailand and Indonesia). Countries that topped the Open Data Index, which assesses the state of open government data around the world, have existing FOI policies. Ecuador ranks highest among third world countries in the Open Data Index.
The event was co-organized by Rappler and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), a German liberal foundation. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa stressed five aspects that define the debate on FOI: culture, work flow, money, technology, and institutionalization. "Government needs to know how to put information online for the next generation," said Ressa.
"Decisions should be made on the basis of real information, and this is the rationale of an FOI law. Let us ensure that the debate is ongoing so that eventually, we will have a positive ending to the FOI saga," said FNF Country Director Jules Maaten.
Read the event blog here: http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/
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Watch the videos courtesy of Rappler
Welcoming remarks from FNF Country Director Jules Maaten
Keynote speech from Senator Grace Poe
Presentation of Rappler FOI study by Rappler Research & Content Strategist Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza
Panel 1 with Vergel Santos Thomas Ossowski, Juli Minoves and Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza
Panel 2 with John Nery, Roberto De Ocampo, Nadia Trinidad, Leni Robredo and Nepomuceno Malaluan
Closing remarks from Rappler CEO & Executive Editor Maria Ressa