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MANILA, Philippines – Environmental lobbyists have thrown their support behind the campaign to have the 15th Congress pass the Freedom of Information bill, saying it will prevent corruption which aggravates environmental degradation.
The groups joined legislators, academics, media practitioners and civil society members in asking Congress not to waste what they called a historic opportunity to pass a law "that could help end a culture of government secrecy and corruption."
Von Hernandez, president of EcoWaste Coalition, said, "There are many reasons the FOI should be enacted. Chief among them is the belief that with greater transparency, there would be less corruption in the government. Our view is that corruption translates to more environmental pollution."
Hernandez added: "We wish, however, that the public right-to-know provisions of the bill also specifically extend to community disclosure requirements involving dangerous and toxic chemicals and materials used or disposed of by industries and other pollution sources."
For instance, he said, "information that may impinge on public health and the environment should not be kept secret and regarded as confidential."
This, as lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Coordinator of the Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC), said the FOI bill if enacted "will make it easy for impacted communities and their allies to get hold of and scrutinize vital documents such as waste contracts entered into by local and national authorities, including the minutes and transcripts of relevant official meetings."
Such public access to procurement and service contracts, said Estenzo-Ramos, will deter crooked politicos, bureaucrats and influence peddlers from engaging in fraudulent transactions to the disadvantage of the people and the environment.”
Aside from the EcoWaste Coalition and the PEJC, other "green groups" backing the passage of the FOI bill include:
The FOI bill, if approved, will implement the constitutional right of the people to information on matters of public concern as well as the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving the public interest, the groups asserted.â¨â¨ They also see the bill as helping to "institutionalize public participation in the development and implementation of national and local integrated, comprehensive and ecological waste management programs" as required under R.A. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.
It will further "encourage the participation of an informed and active public in air and water quality planning and monitoring” as provided for in R.A. 8749, the Clean Air Act and R.A. 9275, the Clean Water Act, the groups said.