Aquino Equivocation Frustrates FOI Bill Supporters

7 November 2011

Philippines President Benigno Aquino Nov. 4 continued to voice doubts for months about freedom of information legislation, saying in a YouTube interview that “the devil is in the details.”

He continued, “When does it help the interests of the people and when can it inflict harm?”

Still, he said his administration is consulting in an effort to write a FOI bill, according to one media report.

Aquino offered three scenarios in which the disclosure of information would have negative effects.

First, prematurely revealing the route of a highway would raise the cost of right of way, he said. Second, he said it might be better to delay releasing the discovery of a SARS patient while a search is made for persons who came into contact with the patient. Third, Aquino worried that information about a bank stealing its clients’ money, if presented in a Cabinet meeting, could become public through a FOI law. “At the end of the day, without any supporting documents, [the Cabinet official] could be held liable for libel, which would force him to clam up,” he said.

Noting his efforts at budget transparency, the president said FOI supporters believe he will disclose everything that needs to be revealed. “But they are saying that when I am gone, what is their legal backstop that it (government transparency) can continue,” he added

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Member of Parliament Teddy Casino was quoted subsequently as accusing Aquino of “killing” the bill “softly,” another media report said. Casino said Nov. 7 that the president “is set not to approve the FOI bill and is now trying to condition the minds of the people.”

“As can be gleaned from the statements of majority of his allies, they are following Malacanang’s lead in trying to kill the bill,” he said. “The president would rather continue the practice of withholding vital information from the public.”

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Parliament should give Aquino more time to come up with his own version. Aquino earlier this year appointed an internal administration committee to write a bill, passage of which was one of his campaign promises.

Some members of parliament appeared to support Aquino’s hesitations, yet another report summarized.

 

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