MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Wednesday denied President Aquino has been leading the charge to kill the freedom of information (FOI) bill, but made no commitment to rally its allies in Congress to approve the measure.
The President’s spokesperson, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, declared that Malacañang has not been delaying the passage of the controversial bill, but has deferred to the lawmakers in the House of Representatives to deliberate on it.
“We have submitted our FOI Bill and we have no hand in delaying [the passage of] the bill,’’ he said in a briefing.
Lacierda said that even proponents of the bill acknowledged that the administration has been transparent, and this should douse any speculation that the President “is the lead conspirator in the fight against the FOI bill.’’
When asked about perceptions that the President has been secretly undermining the passage of the bill, Lacierda said: “That is totally incorrect. We are a government that practices transparency and our actions speak for themselves.’’
Lacierda also denied reports that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. has been spearheading the lobby against the bill.
Deliberations on the bill by the House committee on public information have been stymied by technicalities. The committee chair, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, on Tuesday adjourned the hearing before the consolidated version could be put to a vote, fearing this would overlap with the plenary session.
Advocates had been hoping that this could be put to a vote at the committee so it could be forwarded to the plenary for debate and approved on final reading.
The bill seeks to lift the secrecy surrounding the government transactions and documents, and allow for more transparency. The measure is aimed at rooting out corruption and promoting good governance.
Lacierda said Malacañang has submitted its version of the bill, and even Cabinet officials have appeared in the hearings as resource persons.
He observed that the deliberations were bogged down by Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino’s claim that the consolidated bill ignored his version containing a right of reply provision, but factored in Malacañang’s version.
“We already submitted our FOI version. So we are happy with our FOI version—the Malacañang version,’’ he said. “As to the developments in the House, that’s another matter which we are not aware of.’’
On whether Malacañang was concerned that the bill had not moved past the committee level, Lacierda said it would remain hopeful “it would pass out of the committee.’’
But he indicated that the passage of the 2013 national budget and the sin tax bill would be the administration’s priorities for now.
“Well, there are a number of bills that have to be passed first admittedly, which we have not denied: the budget, the sin tax. The budget is important. The sin tax bill will address the funding gap. The RH is another and the FOI. But, again, all these we leave with the legislature,’’ he said.
Would the President make a stronger endorsement of the measure then?
Lacierda said: “We already made our position very clear. We have submitted our version. We have talked to the Right to Know, (Right Now) coalition.’’