Palace boys chided for slow action on Freedom of Information bill
Members of President Benigno Aquino III’s communications group on Thursday found themselves in the hot seat for their apparently slow action in drafting the administration’s own version of the freedom of information (FOI) bill.
The Senate committee on public information, along with groups pushing for the bill, quizzed Secretary Ramon Carandang and Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III on the Palace’s failure to include the measure on its list of priorities.
“With all due respect, there’s a saying in Filipino: ‘Kung gusto may paraan, pero kung ayaw, maraming dahilan,’” lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan of the Access to Information Network said during the committee hearing.
Not from scratch
Malaluan stressed that Malacañang was not starting “from scratch” in the FOI bill, noting that it was almost passed into law in the last 14th Congress.
The bill passed the conference committee and was awaiting only the ratification by the House of Representatives. But lack of quorum eventually killed the bill and sent it back to square one in the current Congress.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, committee chairman, pushed for a concrete “timeline” for the Palace to complete its preferred version of the FOI bill once and for all.
Pressed for a target date, Quezon later told reporters that a version would probably be ready by the next Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting.
Not ready for prime time
Carandang told the committee that the FOI bill was not included in the priority measures the Palace submitted to the Ledac on Tuesday “because it’s not yet ready for primetime.”
Having been a media practitioner himself, Carandang acknowledged that “our friends in the media would want to have as much disclosure as possible.”
But he also admitted that his work in government in the past 14 months had provided him with new perspectives on the bureaucracy’s concerns in the event that an FOI law was passed.
“It’s different now, Sir, when you’re in the government side,” he told Honasan.
“I am aware that there has been some clamor to fast-track the passage of this draft, but at this point, we would rather have a bill that could get the most consensus from all the stakeholders, rather than a bill that comes before we are ready that would be objected to vehemently by some of the stakeholders.”
A bit slow
Carandang added: “It may be bit slow and I admit that some of the stakeholders are impatient, but we would rather err on the side of caution in this bill rather than rush into something that would be very difficult to defend (later on).”
Malaluan pointed out that FOI bill was not limited to media’s access to government information. “We claim this as well as a citizen’s right and not just a media legislation,” he said.
Roan Libarios, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, threw his group’s support behind the FOI bill, but expressed reservations on the current draft prepared by Malacañang.
Libarios particularly objected to the proposed creation of an “information commission” that would adjudicate complaints by citizens against government agencies withholding information.
“You are placing a new layer, a new barrier to the exercise of rights under the Constitution,” he said.
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