President Aquino Does Not Mention FOI in State of Union

25 July 2011

Philippine President Benigno Aquino did not mention freedom of information in his July 25 State of the Union address, but several days later said his proosal was almost ready.

In a speech July 28, however, Aquino said he had ordered the drafting of a “balanced” freedom of information bill and suggested it would be ready soon, according to reports such as one on PhilStar.com.

“My administration is in the process of drafting, and suggesting, a Freedom of Information Bill that we believe will balance legitimate needs for secrecy with the public’s right to know,” the president  said in his speech during the 25th anniversary of The Philippine Star in Makati City.

“This right to know carries with it responsibilities—to use the information available in context; to present facts fairly; and to be conscious of some elements who may want to use the information not to inform the public, but to, rather, inflame them,” he said.

“Once this bill is passed into law, the media will have greater access to all kinds of sensitive information. It is incumbent on you to use this access carefully and responsibly,” the president said.

In the audience at the State of the Union speech, one legislator wore a barong tagalog [traditional shirt] carrying a slogan promoting the long-stalled freedom of information legislation.

Aquino’s failure to mention the bill had been hinted days previously by a spokesman and was not entirely unexpected as his advisors have yet to obtain his sign-off on an internally developed FOI bill. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño, who wore the FOI-themed shirt, by designer Edgar San Diego, said there is no reason why the bill, which narrowly missed being passed in the 14th Congress, cannot be approved quickly  in the 15th Congress.

“Unfortunately the President himself has become lukewarm to the proposal and the Executive is the one questioning its provisions. This is why after a year, Congress has failed to pass it,” said Casiño, according to a Sun Star report.

Adding another call for the FOI bill last week, the Joint Foreign Chambers issued a statement backing both the FOI bill and the Whistle-blowers Act.

“We advocate the passage of the FOI Act. There has to be stronger powers to compel the disclosure of information (regarding government transactions). We also support the Whistle-blowers Act, to encourage people to tell on officials who are committing corruption,” American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines senior advisor John Forbes said, the Business Inquirer reported.

The JFC is composed of American, Australian, Canadian, European, Korean and New Zealand-based businesses.

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