Some Critics Decry Aquino Hands-Off Stance on FOIA

17 March 2014

The leading Senate sponsors of the freedom to information bill in the Senate has said public pressure will bring about passage of a bill, taking a more charitable view than others on President Benigno Aquino’s continuing decision not to “certify” the bill as urgent.

Sen. Grace Poe’s confidence contrasts with the growing concern among commentators discussing the bill’s prospects in the House, where it has failed to pass for several years notwithstanding the commanding majority held by the administration’s multiparty coalition. However, she expressed concern about getting a diluted bill.

“For the lower House, I think even without the certification, the pressure from the public, from the media will motivate them to work faster,” she was quoted as saying. “The people will be the ones pushing this bill.”

Aquino supported FOI in his 2010 campaign for election and said it would be a priority, but he has been a lackluster supporter ever since, according to critics, who speculate that the goal is to have a new law apply to the next president. His administration took quite a while to produce its own bill, which FOI campaigners said was acceptable. He hasn’t mentioned FOI in three state-of-the-nation addresses.

Aquino Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, responding to the approval of the bill on final reading in the Senate, said March 12, “In our view, it will be more effective if the pressure will come from the citizens themselves because these are legislators who were elected by the people and they are accountable to their constituents who put them in power.”

He said Aquino was “very circumspect in the use of presidential power,” referring to certification.

“We hope it happens [before the end of his term]. We don’t desire for it to not happen,” said Coloma. “The administration is not doing anything to block it.”

In reaction, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said:

There are slim chances or dim chances that it will be similarly passed in the House of Representatives plus we’ve had an added blow because the President refuses to certify it as urgent. I hope netizens can exert sufficient, educated public pressure on all these entities to shake a leg and pass the FOI bill because it’s been passed in other countries.

Death Sentence?

Coloma’s explanation “is a classic display of twisted double talk about the presidential stand,” wrote Pachico A. Seares, executive director of Cebu-Citizens Press Council, in a Sun Star commentary.

He also wrote:

What happens to the president’s duty to lead by telling legislators what measures they must pass for his governance to succeed? It’s common knowledge that in the House, where an alliance of political groups led by the Liberal Party dominates, lawmakers take their cue from the Palace.

Columnist Amando Doronila, writing in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said:

The administration of President Aquino pronounced on Tuesday the death sentence on the freedom of information (FOI) bill by leaving the fate of its passage in the hands of its minions in the House of Representatives.

Commentators were also dubious of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s commitment, despite his colorful pledge of March 12, “You can hang me by the neck if it is not passed.”

A House committee working group is still developing a consolidated bill.

“The law has been long overdue,” editorialized the Manila Standard, noting that the House had recently named the malunggay as national vegetable. “We will remember this continued inaction of these double-speaking politicians and translate that memory into the next elections.”

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