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Freedom of information bill advocates to march to Palace Monday


MANILA, Philippines—Advocates of the freedom of information (FOI) bill are marching to Malacañang on Monday to press President Aquino to push for the passage of the bill in Congress.

The “Right to Know, Right Now Coalition” will march on Mendiola on Monday afternoon to ask President Aquino to certify the FOI bill as urgent, noting that the measure pending in the House of Representatives already incorporated the Palace’s proposed amendments.

“We believe Malacañang stated its position, supported the bill, endorsed its own amendments and said it wanted debates to happen. We appeal to them to take that commitment one more step,” said Nepomuceno Malaluan, the coalition’s co-convenor, adding that a certification would be the only way debates on the bill’s provisions could start.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a co-author of the FOI bill, earlier said that a “miracle” from the President in the form of a certification would be the bill’s best hope for becoming a law.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño, who has withdrawn his authorship of the FOI bill on account of the Palace amendments, also joined calls for a certification as he accused Malacañang of “stalling” the bill’s passage even after its proposed exemptions were put in.

Certification needed

Casiño said the certification was needed so the bill could move forward and he could propose amendments to remove the Palace proposals from the current version of the measure.

He also said that Aquino, who attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, could not boast of good governance given how he has regarded the bill.

“How can President Aquino look world leaders in the eye and say his government is for transparency and accountability but he is the one primarily responsible for watering down the FOI bill?” Casiño said in a statement.

The appeal for certification of the FOI bill is nothing new, but it takes on a more urgent tone now considering the limited window for a final reading passage. Congress only has six session days left, since it will adjourn early for the campaign period for the May elections.

Aquino not keen

The President, however, has not been keen on the idea.

Malaluan said the coalition “exhausted all avenues with respect to the House” to get the bill moving, including appeals and talks with the legislators—but to no avail.

In the three session days that passed last week, the FOI bill did not get a chance to reach the plenary.

The sponsorship of the bill, which would have started the debates on the measure, was not in the order of business last Monday, a day reserved for privilege speeches.

It was included on the agenda Tuesday, but the House suspended the session without the sponsorship speech because another lawmaker was threatening to question the quorum in order to stop a new law creating Davao Occidental province from being read into the House records. The same thing happened on Wednesday.

In both instances, any challenge to the quorum was expected to have succeeded because there were only a few lawmakers present.

Certification not meddling

Malaluan also said issuing a certification would not be considered meddling on the part of the President.

“The certification is only an expression of the President’s own prerogative. How Congress will respond to that prerogative is its own doing,” he said.

The Right to Know, Right Now Coalition, which includes representatives from the media, business, labor, student body and the Catholic Church, will assemble at the University of Sto. Tomas at 2 p.m. on Monday, according to Malaluan.

From there, the group will march to Mendiola. He said the group would seek a meeting with Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III and deliver a letter containing their appeal to the President.

The FOI bill is supposed to lay down a government policy of full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, subject to certain limitations.

With the bill, any person should be able to easily obtain pertinent data on the dealings of the government, in order to foster a climate of good governance and promote transparency and accountability.

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Tags: Benigno Aquino III , Freedom of Information , House of Representatives , Legislation , legislature , Malacañang , marches , Nepomuceno Malaluan , nongovernment organizations , Philippine president , Philippines , Protests , Right to Know Right Now Coalition , Senate

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