MANILA, Philippines—The social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is urging Congress to pass the freedom of information (FOI) bill before it goes on recess for the election campaign period even without the certification of urgency from President Aquino.
In a statement, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action, also warned that candidates under Aquino’s Liberal Party-led coalition might lose their credibility if the FOI bill remained merely as a “pipe dream” for the Filipinos.
“In calling for the FOI to become a law, we are asking for nothing else than to fulfill the mandate of our constitution. If citizens do not fulfill the law they are penalized. But if lawmakers do not fulfill the highest law of the land, what is to be done to them?”
He reminded politicians vying for elective posts in the forthcoming May 13 midterm balloting that they would lack integrity if they were to run on a platform of good governance, accountability and transparency without acting on the passage of the FOI bill in Congress.
“Once again, the President and his candidates under his Liberal Party-led coalition will aspire to seek a fresh mandate, emphasizing that his coalition symbolizes good governance, accountability and transparency,” said Pabillo.
“But this assertion would indeed lack credibility if the FOI bill will remain a pipe dream for us Filipinos,” he said.
The Senate has already passed its own version of the bill. Meanwhile, the House will have to act soon if it wants to pass the measure on third and final reading. It will adjourn on Feb. 12 to give way for the campaign period.
“There is something very wrong when a proposed legislation that will do right to the people does not get the determined support of government leaders who are sworn to protect the people’s interest,” said the prelate.
“The social action arm of the Catholic Church, the CBCP-Nassa takes special interest in the fate that will befall the FOI bill in the 15th Congress. More than a general right, there is a strong justice aspect in FOI,” he added.
Pabillo said the lack of access to public information only made the marginalized sectors—particularly the farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, workers and rural and urban poor—more vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by “bad elements” in the society.
Ignorance of government processes, contracts and services, combined with the lack of formal education, will spawn deprivation of rights and poverty, according to the CBCP.
“Our people then become mere objects of government policies rather than active participants in their own development,” said the prelate, joining advocates of the bill in pressuring Congress to pass the measure.