Press Release
January 30, 2014

Sen. Grace Poe's speech
22nd Annual Meeting of Asia Pacific Parliamentary Form (APPF)

Honorable chair, buenos noches! The stage members of APPF, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here in the 22nd annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary form. In behalf of the Philippine Congressional Delegation, I would like to thank our Mexican hosts for the warm hospitality you have extended to us and the hard work they have put in organizing this forum.

My fellow parliamentarians, many of you here are already familiar with the earthquake and typhoon which brought great devastation and extreme suffering to the Philippines last year. Given the magnitude of the destruction, the emergency and disaster services of my country were all overwhelmed and we, through United Nations, asked the world for assistance. The world resoundingly responded to our call for help.

That is why I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, our Asia Pacific neighbors for their tremendous generosity in providing relief goods, relief workers, aircraft, ships and other forms of assistance. Your help, no matter in what size or form, greatly assuaged the pain and suffering of those who survived these twin disasters and saved thousand more lives.

This outpouring of international relief aid reaffirms the benefits of international cooperation especially during times of calamities. It is also an excellent example of how countries of different political persuasions and views can unite in the spirit of humanitarianism.

International cooperation is also needed to combat another destructive force in our region which is corruption.

My fellow parliamentarians, over the past two decades, many countries from the Asia Pacific region have achieved impressive economic social and political growth, even in light of the recent global economic recession. It is, however, referred to as the Asian economic miracle. However, this miracle is threatened by corruption which can dramatically slow economic development and can threaten the very foundations of even the strongest democratic institutions.

In December 2013, transparency international, the global watchdog of corruption released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The index which covers 177 countries, ranks countries on a scale from the score of zero (highly corrupt) to a score of 100 (very clean).

Fellow parliamentarians, more than half of Asia Pacific countries scored lower than 40. This clearly indicates failures of the majority of governments to effectively curb corruption in our region despite the entry force of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2005.

Since 2005, Parliamentarians worldwide have invested support to UNCAC by enacting laws on anti-corruption and meeting with like-minded parliamentarians and inter-parliamentary organizations such as the APPF and more recently the Global Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) in Manila in 2013.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has also identified corruption as a serious threat to good governance, which, in turn, deters investments. It is also believed that fighting corruption is essential for the development of APEC economies for the benefit of the people and have committed themselves to fight corruption and ensure transparency.

UNCAC can be categorized into the following areas: Prevention, Criminalization, International Cooperation and Asset recovery. As the very first area to be covered by UNCAC, preventing corruption is considered key to good governance.

Many people believe that the only way to prevent corruption is through the practice of government and parliamentary transparency or by simply making public documents and transactions open to the public through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Legislation.

In most democratically elected countries, constitutions give the people the right to know what their government is doing. However, some countries require additional legislation to give this right to the public.

Historically, countries which have a long history of FOI legislation tend to be less corrupt, such as Sweden, which holds the distinction of having passed the very first freedom of information law in 1766. In the 2013 index, Sweden scored 89 and was ranked third. However, parliaments which are seeking to enact the FOI legislation must do so carefully because exceptions are still needed to protect national security and negotiating positions of a country.

I am glad to report that the Philippine Senate, through the Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, which I chair, is presently deliberating the long-overdue People's Freedom of Information Act of 2013 which we hope to pass in the first quarter of this year.

The passage of the very first FOI law in the Philippines will not only help prevent graft and corruptions but more importantly, our citizens will learn to get involved and participate, and thus, will become true stakeholders in their government. This is the true essence of democracy.

In addition to FOI legislation, parliaments being the bastion of democracy also exert all their efforts to maintain integrity and authority by undertaking reforms that will ensure and monitor transparency in the work of its members as well as in establishing and enforcing a code of ethics and conduct.

Thank you for this opportunity.

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