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Editorial

Don’t let FOI bill die

/ 06:46 AM August 20, 2011

For some confounding reason or another, President Benigno Aquino III has been waffling on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

Where once he declared, during his campaign for the May 2010 election that this was part of his battle cry for clean government, Aquino has chosen not to place it on the agenda of the Legislative and Executive conference or LEDAC.

Lobbyists of the bill, which should include all journalists and citizens who care about transparency and access to public records, are fed up.

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Since Pnoy defaults on FOI, Congress must now take the lead, said movers of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition.

“Kung talagang gusto, hahanap ng paraan. Kung talagang ayaw, hahanap ng dahilan.”

We agree. If the President really wanted to get behind the FOI bill and honor the constitutional right of the people to know and secure government documents, he’d find a way.

The coalition is understandably exasperated:

“The President says he supports the bill in principle, but that he has “specific questions and concerns” that he wants to be settled, before he endorses it as his priority legislation. His concerns, the President says, include his fears that FOI could unlock documents that might expose people to kidnappers, cause government losses in right-of-way cases because of property price speculations, and many other unwanted results.

“Yet over the last 14 months in office, he has failed to answer and settle these concerns, and for as long a period, the FOI bill has languished in limbo.

“A Malacañang study group on the FOI had told us about other, bigger concerns of the President. Through Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, chief author of the FOI bill in the House of Representatives, we informally and indirectly engaged the study group in constructive dialogue over the last six months.

“Two critical concerns on exceptions were addressed over time in three successive drafts of the FOI bill that the Palace study group crafted – “national security” and the President’s deliberative process.

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“The legislative process practically ground to a halt, precisely because the President and his study group said they were drafting their own FOI bill. We had hoped that by the opening of the second regular session of Congress, the Palace draft would be done, and the President would have certified it as a priority measure. “

This hasn’t happened. The FOI bill remains stuck in the Palace.

Advocates can’t wait for Pnoy. He’s passed up the chance to lead what could have been a centerpiece legislation that makes his anti-corruption rhetoric a reality.

Too bad. Now the fight to get the FOI bill through moves to the arena of Congress.

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TAGS: Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, Politics, President Benigno Aquino III
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