Is President Aquino for or against it?
President Benigno Aquino III had the chance to categorically state his position on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) but blew it, advocates said on Wednesday.
FOI advocates such as the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition consider the second regular session of the 15th Congress a crucial time to approve the key measure, otherwise it would be too late.
“We’re still unclear about the signal from the Chief Executive himself. The question remains, is President Aquino really committed to see the FOI bill passed into law?” coalition co-convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan asked during a forum on the bill.
The forum held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati was organized by the Center for Media Freedom Responsibility.
Even Mr. Aquino’s ally, House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, said he wanted to be “pleasantly surprised about how information plays an important role in good governance” in last Monday’s Sona.
‘He didn’t do it’
“That would have made a big impact especially for advocates of Freedom of Information bill. He didn’t do it. What he mentioned was he’d like to put a closure to the compensation for martial law victims. So that’s half-half,” said the lawmaker, an author of one version of the bill.
Mr. Aquino, who vigorously pushed for the bill when he was still a senator, held back when he assumed the President. He cited certain concerns and asked a Palace working group to study the matter further.
Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III explained that the study group and the stakeholders have yet to reach a consensus and craft a final draft, that’s why Mr. Aquino did not mention it in his Sona.
The study group is composed of Quezon, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Secretary Edwin Lacierda and Secretary Ricky Carandang.
The FOI bill seeks to institutionalize full disclosure of government transactions involving public interest, and grant every citizen access to records under the control of the government subject to exceptions.
Mr. Aquino’s failure to mention in his second Sona the FOI bill was a “clear signal” he was not supporting the bill, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said.
“The signal is clear that the President doesn’t want this bill. He’s not enthusiastic about it, he’s not gushing about it. Which is sad because it fits right into his advocacy of good governance, transparency and accountability,” said Casiño, an author of another version.
He said the President should come clean whether he’s for the bill or not.
“Once these are addressed, and they are being addressed, the government will submit to Congress its inputs for the bill,” he said in the forum. With a report from Christian V. Esguerra
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