President Aquino flip-flops on Freedom of Info bill
President Benigno Aquino III indicated he was not ready to include the freedom of information (FOI) bill on his list of priority measures, saying too much transparency may prove to be a bane rather than a benefit.
Answering a question on when his administration would include the freedom of information bill in its list of priority measures, Mr. Aquino told Southeast Asian business leaders on Thursday that it would be when all sectors concerned have agreed on the limitations and coverage of such a law mandating transparency in the bureaucracy.
“You know, having a freedom of information act sounds so good and noble but at the same time—I think you’ll notice that here in this country—there’s a tendency of getting information and not really utilizing it for the proper purposes,” President Aquino said during a question and answer exchange with the forum participants.
President Aquino, who had promised to support the bill when he campaigned for president in the 2010 elections, also took a swipe at the country’s newspapers that present opinion as fact—something that he said would not do the country any good.
“There are so many people who will always look at the bottle half-empty, or sometimes the half-empty bottle even becomes the quarter, quarter-full bottle,” he added.
Asked when his administration would certify the FOI bill as a priority given that one of the hallmarks of the government’s policies is transparency, President Aquino said: “Once everybody is able to sign off on the limitations and coverage of the freedom of information act.”
One such issue, President Aquino said, is that some advocates of the transparency measure want Cabinet meetings recorded and immediately made available for the public to watch or listen to.
“Having a freedom of information bill that dictates something like that will inhibit the discussions that will probably not allow us to share the information amongst ourselves,” President Aquino said, indicating that the discussions could lead to something other than the best decision.
“And I don’t think you would want that,” he added.
President Aquino also made an example of whether the government should make public the return of individuals that are suspected of being afflicted with the severe acute respiratory syndrome.
“I don’t think causing panic the populace would redound to their benefit,” President Aquino said.
“Let us have our people completely informed as mandated by the constitution but at the same time make sure that the idea of a little knowledge becomes a lot of danger does not happen in our country,” President Aquino said.
“That is the debate as to where to draw the line. And we have a working group talking to all the stakeholders trying to come up with that law that everybody can live with and comply with,” he added.
Then President Aquino made an issue out of how, according to him, the print media reports opinion as fact.
“And if I may just add, just one last point, all you have to do is read our newspapers everyday. And I think you will agree, that there is, how should I say… nobody can state a fact exactly the same in all of these newspapers,” President Aquino said.
“An opinion commenting on the fact is okay but an opinion masquerading as a fact does not do anyone any good,” he added.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) immediately reacted to Mr. Aquino’s remarks, saying they were saddened by them.
“We are saddened by the statement of the President, who, during his campaign for presidency, promised to support the passage of the freedom of information law, vowing to promote transparency in the government and fight corruption, NUJP secretary-general Rowena Paraan said in a statement.
“Hearing the president talk about transparency sounded so good and noble but at the same time, you will notice that in this country, there is a tendency of politicians like Aquino making promises when still wooing the people’s votes but once in power, they forget their promises and abuse the trust voters have given them,” Paraan said.
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