Freedom of info bill not President Aquino’s priority, NUJP laments
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines on Tuesday expressed disappointment over the exclusion of the freedom of information (FOI) bill from President Benigno Aquino III’s list of priority bills.
Mr. Aquino recently met with lawmakers for the second Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) to draw up priority legislation that should be passed during the 15th Congress’ second regular session.
“The NUJP is saddened and disappointed that the present administration does not consider the FOI a priority,” NUJP chair Nestor Burgos said in a phone interview.
Burgos, an Inquirer correspondent based in Iloilo, said this was a “big letdown” because Mr. Aquino’s spokespersons had given assurances that this measure would be a priority.
“The President should explain why the bill was not among the priority. That would be a big setback to ensure wider transparency in the bureaucracy,” he said.
With its exclusion from the priority list and its nonmention in the President’s State of the Nation Address, Burgos said the President’s stand on the measure had become clearer.
“It’s easy to conclude that this is not a priority of the administration despite repeated statements. Apparently, the President and the administration are not living up its promises especially on the FOI,” he said.
This, however, should serve as a challenge to the advocates to “push the bill,” he said.
The bill will provide for the full disclosure of government transactions and assure every citizen access to public records subject to a few exceptions.
About a quarter of a century ago a freedom of information provision was put into the Philippine Constitution (1987) but lawmakers have effectively stalled its implementation by failing to pass an enabling law. Many government records are still being kept a secret from the public.
Malacañang has said that Mr. Aquino agrees in principle with the FOI bill although there were still “several concerns” to be addressed through careful study and deliberation.
It has proposed the creation of an independent information commission that will arbitrate requests for access to documents especially if these are denied by a government agency.
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