Lawmakers follow Aquino, turn wary over passing freedom of info bill
A number of lawmakers belonging to different political parties are now hedging on passing the freedom of information bill, echoing President Benigno Aquino III’s line that it could be “prone to abuse.”
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales of the Liberal Party, Nueva Ecija Representative Rodolfo Antonino of the National Unity Party and Valenzuela City Representative Rex Gatchalian of the National People’s Coalition said that Congress had to make sure there were “enough safeguards” to ensure that a freedom of information bill “would not be used for mischief against other persons.”
The freedom of information bill would allow the public to obtain records of government transactions, meetings and other business, a right enshrined in the Constitution. But for almost a quarter of a century, lawmakers have effectively withheld the people’s enjoyment of this right by failing to pass its implementing guidelines.
President Aquino earlier said he had not yet made up his mind whether or not to support any of the freedom of information bills pending in Congress.
“Freedom of Information Act sounds so good and noble but at the same time, first of all, you’ll notice that here in this country there’s a tendency to get information and not really utilize it for the proper purposes,” the President had said during an open forum at a gathering of Southeast Asian business leaders in September.
One of his LP allies, Quezon Representative Lorenzo R. Tañada III, a principal author of the bill, was quoted in media reports as expressing dismay over the President’s lack of support for one of his promises made during the election campaign.
But Gonzales backed the President, saying Mr. Aquino was justified in his apprehensions over the freedom of information provisions because Congress had not yet determined “the reasonable limitations” to be adopted to prevent the misuse of state information.
“What makes the freedom of information bill controversial and difficult to shepherd is the danger that it can be abused. While freedom of information is guaranteed by the Constitution, by no stretch of the imagination should it be considered absolute. All civil liberties and rights enshrined in the Constitution have limitations,” said Gonzales in a text message.
Antonino said Congress should strike a balance between the right to information versus the rights of those who might be affected by that information.
Gatchalian said the NPC had not yet come up with a stand on the freedom of information bill because its members were still reviewing the pros and cons of the Philippines’ version of the US sunshine laws.
Ako Bicol party-list Representative Rodel Batocabe, a co-author of the bill, said any measure would always be prone to abuse unless proper safeguards were instituted and loopholes plugged. He said this was the reason Congress had to exercise its oversight functions to prevent any law’s misuse.
He said the fears of abuse were at present “speculative.”
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