I almost missed it.
All these years of lobbying for the Freedom of Information bill, you get to know your “enemies”:
- Legislators at the House of Representatives who insisted on lumping their Right of Reply measure with the FOI (RoR would reward politicians and other fat cats who dodge questions raised by media, by allowing them to dictate how, when and where to offer their spin);
- Malacanang, the President in particular, for reneging on a promise to certify the bill as urgent, remaining hostile (lukewarm at best) to the idea of FOI – even when the Palace’s version had been adopted by the Committee on Information and (more reluctantly) accepted by advocates;
- Palace lapdogs that hemmed and hawed, delaying movement even at the Committee level;
- The Leadership of the HoR, Liberal Party stalwarts, who jump to crack the whip for the President’s pet initiatives and likewise take their FOI cues from him.
With only nine session days before Congress adjourns for the campaign season, the House leadership yet again delayed plenary proceedings needed to muster FOI passage at second and third readings. (Read the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism account here) This prompted a walkout by advocates. But it surprised no one.
What stunned was the move of militant party-list bloc, Makabayan to withdraw support for the bill.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, a principal author of the bill, explained in a press conference that while the bloc supports the public clamor for the passage of an FOI bill, “we feel that the substitute bill, because of the weight of the restrictions, does not anymore reflect our vision of a genuine Freedom of Information Bill.” He said they would push for amendments in plenary and will duly co-author the measure again if and when the exceptions are deleted or substantially amended. “What we need is a genuine FOI bill, not a watered-down version.”
For Makabayan’s chief plaints, read Casino’s blog. The release also quotes Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan, as saying, “We have to be vigilant. If we retain the exceptions, we are negating the basis of the proposed measure.”
Casino said the bloc “would push for amendments in plenary and will duly co-author the measure again if and when the exceptions are deleted or substantially amended.” On Twitter, hours after Makabayan’s announcement, Casino called it a necessity.
Technically, he is right. We all saw Senators Ralph Recto and Tito Sotto during the Senate plenary proceedings on the RH Law.
Many of Makabayan’s concerns were also raised by groups advocating the FOI. It is a coalition of various political stripes. It could be that after years and years of pushing the measure, most advocates decided to swallow these bitter pills.
Everyone thought a consensus had been reached.
She wasn’t the only one confused. We were all blindsided.
WHY ONLY NOW?
Call us naive. But many of the FOI advocacy groups have sat and discussed and marched on the streets with Makabayan legislators and their followers on other issues.
We’ve met each other several times in the last several months, fighting the Cybercrime Law or urging justice for the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, among other issues. In all those meetings and huddles, not once did a Makabayan representative attempt to drag us from the road to perdition.
I am a member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), which advocates for FOI. There has been no call, no text message, no twitter post to indicate Makabayan’s position on our position. Reams of statements, manifestos and updates have been written, so many fora called, so many meetings held (with or without the bill’s main author, Rep. Erin Tanada) — NADA.
Nobody drew any of us aside to warn, hey, you’re agreeing to a meaningless measure or, as Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino dubbed the substitute bill, a “Freedom of Exemption” measure. Wala man lang nagsabi, “mag-babanggaan tayo dito.”
JUST. THIS. SUDDEN. ANNOUNCEMENT. A shot fired. Suddenly, I feel like the enemy. Especially since Casino now calls it “Malacanang’s FOI Bill.”
NO WAY TO TREAT ALLIES
On Twitter last night, a Makabayan supporter and Casino pointed out that they had been open about their disaffection and had issued press releases and spoken in committee hearings; that they had voted for it on the committee level to simply get it out into the plenary.
The subtext being, that they waved it through to halt the delays. Another subtext being, that they’ll fix all problems in the plenary. Someone even said, don’t worry, we’ll sort this out.
Why, thank you!
Is this what Congress does to people? After decades of on-ground political campaigns, Makabayan has forgotten about alliance work? Or, worse, forgotten what ALLY means?
Has the line between political campaigns and legislative work now become a WALL, so that Makabayan purely focuses its tactics and strategies on their HoR colleagues and the Palace? Was it so hard to talk to us, call us to a meeting, and present, section by section, their concerns over what they now call a “fake” FOI bill?
Yes, we supported that bill. Call us unenlightened. Call us backward. Did you ever bother to sit down and enlighten us? Did Makabayan see us as so blinkered and hoodwinked, so unworthy of dialogue? That “fake” bill did not drop from the sky yesterday.
There was enough time — god knows Rep. Ben Evardone, with a nod and a wink from Speaker Sonny Belmonte, did enough noynoying these past months.
There was enough room for the advocates to thrash out their issues. Makabayan wouldn’t have gotten everything it wanted, but it could have gotten some of its demands. Many of us had raised the same points. If we eventually agreed to the current version, it was in good faith.
Mindset defines the process. We may have gotten lost in the FOI quagmire. But your loss, Makabayan, seems to be of a more profound sort. (And that is said with great pain.)
Well, there’s one day more, and one more day. Eight days. And the rest of our lives.