MANILA, Philippines –The government of President Benigno S. Aquino III is placing the Freedom of Information bill as one of its top priorities, but wants to ensure that the proposed law keeps a a “happy balance” between providing information to the public, and at the same protecting confidential government information.
Presidential Undersecretary Manolo Quezon III, in an interview with 990 AM on Thursday morning, revealed that an agreement on the final version of the bill “is close at hand.” But he said that the President wants to address the concerns of FOI advocates, and concerns on the confidentiality of certain government information.
Undersecretary Manolo Quezon is in charge of drafting the Palace version of the FOI bill. He acknowledged that there are at least three more details that Malacanang is ‘polishing’, but declined to say what these were.
“We are prioritizing the consolidation of the Tanada version of the bill, and also versions of the US, UK and Australia versions,” Quezon said. “ The administration favors transparency, and this had been proven by the openness of the President to queries from the media. But the top priority now is to come up with just one version that will be released.”
He clarified, however, that the final version will still be presented to President Aquino because he has “some legitimate questions about the FOI.”
Early this year, year, President Aquino was criticized by some quarters for not including the FOI bill on the list of priority measures that the Palace wanted Philippine lawmakers to fast-track.
Aquino said at the time that he was not comfortable that all “raw information” on government affairs should be made public.
But the President acknowledged that he does not want to hide anything that is of public interest.
“In the interim, I don’t think we have been hiding anything. We have not avoided any question that has been thrown our way. So even in the absence of any Freedom of Information Law, we have been trying to be transparent to the utmost level possible,” he had said.
“But, of course, there are times that when especially in a raw state, hindi natin pwedeng idi-discuss lest we might have apprehensions raised that are not necessary. So ang dulo noon, shortcut answer is, we’re still fine-tuning exactly how it will be, the details of this Freedom of Information Bill,” he had explained.