[Statement] Struggle for a larger freedom of information -PAHRA

STRUGGLE FOR
A LARGER FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

February 10, 2012

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) welcomes the initial gains of a convergent struggle towards a larger freedom of information.

PAHRA acknowledges the advances made so far in the proposed bill by the staunch supporters in the legislative branch, the contribution of and vital endorsement by President Benigno Aquino III as head of the executive branch as well as the unflagging campaign of civil society through the Coalition for Freedom of Information, Right Now!

We commend the concrete provisions that expand access to information, e.g. those pertaining to the submission of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs), to effectively prevent and prosecute graft and corruption among government officials as these adversely impact on the economic, social and cultural rights of people.

Nonetheless, full enjoyment of the right to information is still primarily a State obligation which the people must continuously demand and determinedly struggle for.

Soon, the Filipino people will be commemorating again the toppling of the Marcos Dictatorship which violated our fundamental freedoms and grossly violated our human rights with impunity. More than three decades have passed, government and military information on the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings, massacres, enforced disappearances, torture and other gross human rights violations involving economic, social and cultural rights have been suppressed. Relatives still do not know what really happened to their loved ones and who are the perpetrators of these violations and crimes.

The officially turned-over martial law documents by the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), in their present pace and diligence, while a welcome initiative, has still a long way to go to bring closure, much more to obtain justice for the victims and families of human rights violations. The President, as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the AFP, should order a fast, time-bound handing over of the rest of the identified 20, 000 files to the CHR.

Right to information is integral to combating impunity. The UN Updated Principles in Combating Impunity includes the right to truth. There are two aspects of this right: the first is the individual’s, as well as, the victim’s families and relatives right to know the circumstances and reasons for the victim’s torture, enforced disappearance or extrajudicial killing. The second is the collective aspect, wherein the nation should remember the tragedies that were consequent of the human rights violations. The obligation to preserve documents and other related evidences to the violations arise from the state’s duty. So is the obligation that public access is facilitated.

Thus, the proposed “Freedom of Information Act of 2012” must contain the provisions that records of official investigations of alleged gross human rights violations, particularly extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, must be preserved. Also, information of these same human rights violations should never ever be classified as exemptions to deny public access as are crimes and wrongdoings, graft or corruption. The excuse of “national security” should not be used to protect under its umbrage the perpetrators of human rights violations.

PAHRA calls on all those who fight for fundamental freedoms and human rights to lobby and obtain a law that advances towards a larger freedom of information.

PAHRA unites with all who struggles for the right to truth to combat and end graft, corruption and impunity.

 

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