Aquino Study of FOI Bill Decried by Supporters

1 March 2011

The Aquino administration has created an inter-agency team to draft its own freedom of information bill, a move that the pro-FOI coalition said “could simply throw a monkey wrench” into the process.

At a press briefing,  presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the administration is seeking to balance privacy and the right to information, according to news reports such as one by Amita O. Legaspi for GMA News.  “We are studying it right now and (Budget) Secretary Butch Abad has been tasked to oversee the discussion and the drafting of the Freedom of Information Bill as far as the executive branch is concerned,” Lacierda said, indicating that U.S. and British laws are being studied by a group including representatives from the Department of Justice, the National Security Agency, Presidential Communications Department and Strategic Planning Office, and Presidential Management Staff.

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition in a March 1 statement criticized the move, which comes after the administration decided against making FOI legislation a legislative priority. (See previous report.)  Noting previous efforts to compromise with the administration, the statement says in part:

We fear, however, that Malacañang’s enunciated approach of drafting its own FOI bill could simply throw a monkey wrench into its long-overdue legislation. For one, it sends a signal to the Congress to slow down on the legislative process because Malacañang has yet to start crafting its version. For another, Malacañang’s lack of decisive support for FOI has been interpreted by many sectors as clear resistance, in fact, to the measure. This can only embolden opponents of the bill in Congress. Additionally, Malacañang’s approach could result in a bill that may have far less to offer in terms of substance and structure, or even as confused as the initial yield of memorandum circulars from the Palace.

The coalition points out that the majority of the bills introduced are based on the bicameral conference committee version that came very close to passing in June, 2010. “But the sudden death of the FOI bill had been told and retold – it was killed by deceit, a sheer miscounting of the number of legislators present on the floor on the last session day of the House,” the statement recounts.

“In the present Congress, committee hearings have already been conducted in both Houses,” the statement continues. “We note that representatives of Executive agencies have been invited to these hearings, and many of them have dutifully submitted their comments in writing.”

Rep. Erin Tañada,  chairman of a technical working group has circulated a proposed consolidation of the bills, “which has been further refined precisely to address the reported concerns of some officials from Malacañang and other executive agencies,” according to the statement.

The coalition makes other suggestions and urges the inter-agency group to announce a transparent and time-bound process for its study and recommendations. The Senate and House should continue to advance FOI legislation, the coalition says.

Abad, the chairman of the committee, said its  report on the bill will be presented to the next meeting of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), which has not been scheduled but which he said would be soon, according to GMA News.

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