Although he failed to mention it in his recent State of the Nation Address, President Benigno Aquino continues to support the freedom of information bill (FOI), according to Secretary Herminio Coloma, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
Coloma gave this assurance during the budget hearing for his department at the House of Representatives Thursday.
At the hearing, Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello noted the President’s failure to mention the bill in his Sona, adding that the measure was not gaining any traction in a legislative chamber full of Mr. Aquino’s allies.
The freedom of information bill has yet to be put to a committee vote.
“Yes, the President wants the FOI bill, and the clearest sign he wants it is that he allowed the submission to Congress of the administration version of the bill, which I believe has been incorporated into the current version that’s being discussed,” Coloma told the hearing.
“I don’t think there are any reservations or ifs and buts regarding that presidential commitment,” he later added.
The submission to Congress of an administration version could be seen as a “wholehearted endorsement” of the bill, he said.
The President has not directly ordered his allies in the House to act on the measure as he does not always want to use the power of his office to influence a coequal branch, Coloma said.
“It’s my observation that the President is very circumspect in the use of the presidency—to use a commonly-used term—as a bully pulpit or as a place to wield significant influence over a coequal and separate branch,” he said.
Coloma said his department was even preparing for the eventual passage of the freedom of information bill and was coming up with its own implementing rules and regulations with regard to the public’s demand for information.
The freedom of information bill seeks to provide greater access to government records and to ensure transparency in government transactions in order to battle corruption and promote good governance.
Supporters of the bill, who number at least 117, have pressed Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, the public information committee chairman, to put the measure to a vote so it could be tackled in the plenary.
Evardone has said that the bill would be discussed first in caucus to iron out its contentious issues, like the possible inclusion of a right-of-reply provision as well as safeguards to prevent its abuse or misuse.
He said this would expedite the progress of the bill and ensure that it would not be bogged down in debates.
But proponents of the measure fear that this is a delaying tactic meant to kill the bill by letting it expire in the current Congress. Evardone has denied that he is against the bill or is out to kill it.