By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is used as a venue by an incumbent president to enumerate his or her achievements from the past year. It is also used as a ground to lay down principles that would serve as his direction for another year. Of course, the achievements of an incumbent president are measured by the people based on the improvements on their lives – economically, politically and socially.
It is from the above context that I want to share my comments on Pres. Benigno C. Aquino III SONA last Monday. Aside from his acts on the realization of justice for extra-judicially killed journalists, I would like also to assess his one year on how he helped facilitate the adoption of legislative measures (or policies) that would help improve the practice of journalism and alleviate the situation of press freedom in the country.
Journalists perform their jobs’ anchored on the people’s right to know. In the performance of their duty, they are threatened to silence or even up to the extent of being extra-judicially killed. That was actually the case of the Maguindanao massacre where the journalists joined the convoy of a local politician to cover the filing of his candidacy when they were attacked. It happened in November 2009 under the administration of then Pres. Gloria Arroyo, the stakeholders and the public were on the watch as to how the new administration of Pres. Aquino would address the issue. With his history of losing his father to an assassin’s bullet, the public expected much from him for the realization of justice, not only for the Aquino’s but for the people who believed in his father’s leadership.
Pres. Aquino has already been in power for more than a year (and nearly two years since the Ampatuan massacre), still the case moves at a turtle pace. While he is not expected to act and influence the process, he could have adopted measures, like creating a super body, to help the investigation that may facilitate justice. His failure to create such shows his position on the matter. It is no wonder that the extra-judicial killings of journalists’ continue under his administration, where at least five journalists were extra-judicially killed.
To improve the situation of journalists under threat and prevent extra-judicial killings, journalists have been lobbying for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI). This piece of legislation is important as it will institutionalize and improve the access to government data under the context of the people’s right to know.
This was introduced in Congress at least 14 years ago, and still fails to pass into law. In the present Congress, a Senate version of the bill was passed and approved. The House of Representatives, however, failed to pass their version. Now, a bill on the Freedom of Information needs to be re-introduced. It is back to square one again.
We join the NUJP and other media groups in challenging Pnoy to certify a new FOI Bill as an urgent bill. If he is really serious at upholding good governance and is sincere for the people’s right to know, he should certify it as an urgent bill (when a bill will be refilled) in Congress. An act for the Freedom of Information will help improve press freedom in the country. # nordis.net