Aquino Position on FOI Remains in Doubt

22 July 2011

Philippine President Benigno Aquino still has not indicated whether he will support a freedom of information bill developed by a working group of his ministers, according to sources consulted by and media reports.

Aquino “will likely not mention the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in his second State of the Nation Address on July 25, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief Florencio Abad said Wednesday,” according to a report by GMA News.

A top Philippine official told recently that the president had not yet seen the FOI bill developed by a working group he appointed earlier this year. The group includes Abad, Communications Office Secretary Ricky Carandang and Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III. GMA reports that Abad indicated that the group has proposed to add a commission which will implement provisions of the bill.

In the meantime, supporters of a FOI law launched a new website under the slogan “Bantay FOI! Sulong FOI!” which roughly translates to We Watch FOI, Onwards FOI. The World Bank resident representative spoke at a July 19 event in support of passage of the bill. For pictures and details see a posting by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. The campaign is using the slogan “Kung Walang FOI, Dadami Corrupt, Dadami Mahirap (Without An FOI, There Will Be More Corruption, And More Poverty).”

House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said the House committee on public information said at the rally, “Whether the executive branch is ready or not, time is of the essence. It is important that before the second regular session is over, we already approved the FOI.”

He said that he and fellow members of a study group on the FOI bill, including representatives from Malacañang [the Aquino administration], are still resolving “contentious” issues on the measure.

Among the issues that are still being resolved is the inclusion of “national security” as one of the reasons why the government can withhold certain documents, Tañada said, according to GMA News. “Based on my conversations with the study group, mukhang okay naman. We feel that if there are contentious issues, these are not insurmountable,” he said. Tañada likewise said that he “might withdraw” his authorship of the bill “if it becomes watered down.”

Senator Teofisto Guingona III meanwhile said that Senate committee deliberations on their own version of the FOI bill, Senate Bill 11, will start right after Aquino’s State of the Union speech, GMA’s Andreo Calonzo reported. “When session resumes, we will start the committee hearing so we can terminate the hearing by the end of August or mid-September,” Guingona said.

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