11 March 2014

Environmental Advocates Laud Senate for Approving FOI Bill

Quezon City.  Environmentalists lauded the Senate led by the Committee on  Public Information and Mass Media under Senator Grace Poe for approving yesterday the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

At the same time, they urged the House of Representatives to fast track the approval of the FOI bill, stressing that it should support, if not surpass, the strong provisions of the Senate version to ensure public access to essential information and check abuse and corruption in the government.

Senate Bill 1733, or the "People's Freedom of Information Act," recognizes "the right of the people to information on matters of public concern and adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest," subject to certain exceptions.

"The Senate's approval of the FOI bill is an act of empowering consequence to ensure the right of every Juan and Juana de la Cruz to access government records and data involving public interest," said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

"The bill covers all government officials and employees, as well as public service contractors  whose contracts or transactions with the government are of the highest public interest due to the amounts involved and their impact on the people's lives and our environment," she said.

"This will, for instance, provide citizens' groups with a potent tool to demand vital information to support the rational use of public funds towards real solutions to our garbage woes, which presently bank on costly corruption-ridden 'hakot-tambak'  waste collection and hauling services," she added.

For her part, Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Coordinator of the Philippine Earth Justice Center, said: "The passage of the FOI Bill is long overdue. The right to access information on matters that affect all of us touches the very core of our State-guaranteed right to participate  effectively at all levels of decision-making, be it social, political and economic."

"The rights to life, livelihood, health and a healthful and balanced ecology are rendered meaningless if constituents are excluded from accessing vital information which should have served as basis for their informed choices in projects and vigorous contributions in crafting policies and programs that impact not just this generation but those yet unborn," added the Cebu-based environmental lawyer.

"Finally, with this bill, it will be easier now to get  copies of environmental impact statements or EIS of environmentally destructive projects like coal power plants and mining operations. For many years, this has been a recurring problem. It is really high time that the FOI bill be approved," said Ann Fuertes, Executive Director of Interface Development Interventions, Inc., based in Davao City.

The environmentalists also called on the Aquino administration to show its genuine commitment to adhere to the principles of accountability, transparency and citizen participation,  under the President's Social Contract with the people and as an original signatory of the Open Government Partnership, by pushing for the FOI bill's immediate passage in Congress.

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