NorthCot media, CSOs seek right to information ordinance

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/09 May) – A group of journalists and civil society organizations (CSOs) in North Cotabato have submitted last Wednesday to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan a draft of the “People’s Right on Information” (PRIO) for possible adoption as an ordinance.

The group, led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) North Cotabato chapter and the local anti-graft body WATCH Cotabato, also urged the provincial board to make the PRIO a part of the media protocol of the Administration Code of the Cotabato provincial government.

The group said that PRIO is culled from the Freedom on Information (FOI) bill drafted by some media institutions and several CSOs based in Metro Manila, which they submitted last year to Congress.

The PRIO seeks the full disclosure of government records for transparency, good governance and accountability.

The group said that with PRIO, “the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, which includes access to official records and documents pertaining to the general welfare, shall be recognized.”

It added that one of the provisions of the PRIO is the mandatory disclosure of information of any government agency as to its budget, collections and disbursement, and summary of income and expenditures.

Abner Francisco, head of WATCH Cotabato, said that under PRIO, the local government units in North Cotabato are mandated to disclose the utilization of their internal revenue allotment, bidding process, their annual procurement plan, loans, grants, development assistance and technical assistance, among others.

Professor Framer Mella, president of the Southern Philippines Methodist Colleges, said that with PRIO getting a mandate, the people have the legal basis to ask for necessary information.

“It becomes our right. You can demand this information from government agencies because there is already legislation,” Mella said.

“Such proposal, if passed into ordinance, will guarantee the public’s right to information,” said Kidapawan City councilor and Network of Women member Ruby Padilla-Sison.

Sison, chair of Committee on Human Rights of the Kidapawan City Sangguniang Panglungsod, said she is also set to author the proposed Transparency and Accountability Code of Kidapawan City.

“This is just a start. We still have to lobby the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to adopt this (PRIO) proposal as an ordinance,” she explained.

Joy Francisco, editor-in-chief of the Southern Voice Journal, said the proposal will help ascertain the claims of government officials that they are truthful and rendering true service.

“Obtaining even simple information or documents from government agencies like the Commission on Audit and the Bids and Awards Committee, among others, had been very tedious. I hope with the approval of this proposal, this is going to be resolved,” Francisco said.

“This proposal reflects our vision for our province to become graft-free,” he added.

Francisco stressed they were inspired to submit the PRIO to the provincial board after they completed last week a training on transparency and good governance.

The workshop was initiated by the NUJP, MindaNews and Institute for Women Reporting under the Citizen Action Network for Accountability project, and funded by the European Union. (MindaNews)