President Aquino Again Makes No Mention of FOI Bill

29 July 2014

Philippines President Benigno Aquino did not mention the freedom of information bill in his annual State of the National address July 28, but the House Speaker affirmed his desire to pass a bill.

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition had tried to raise the bill’s profile in advance of the speech, gathering 38,000 signatures supporting swift passage on a petition submitted July 25.

Aquino administration officials continue to say Aquino wants to see a bill passed by the end of his term in 2016.

His statements aren’t backed by action, according to critics, who asked him to declare the bill “urgent” to speed its passage. Aquino has said that such a designation can only be done for emergency legislation, but that he supports passing a FOI bill

Not to mention the FOI bill in his address was consistent with his four previous SONA speeches.

A FOI bill in March passed the Senate, which has approved FOI bills before and with ease. But the legislation has not made it through a House committee, the traditional sticking point. The bill (HB 3237), particularly its section on exemptions, remains under consideration by a technical working group.

Vice President Jejomar Binay on July 29 said he supported the FOI bill, saying: “Congressional approval of the Freedom of Information Bill advances the reform agenda, as it further institutionalizes the principles of accountability and transparency in government. These are core reform principles that I fully support.”

Comments by the leader of the House provided some better news, according to an article in Interaksyon.

Opening House’s second regular session July 28, Feliciano Belmonte Jr.  said, “We must craft a viable FOI Law to promote greater transparency and strengthen accountability in government, without unduly restricting the latitude of options for government action in the delivery of services to the public and in responding expeditiously to the needs of our people,” he said.

Belmonte said, “We will examine the situation this week, and the various versions, and discuss it with House leaders.”

Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao was quoted as saying: “The only kink I see would be the busy schedule of Congress. The budget hearing plus the impeachment complaints would surely occupy a good part of our time.”

The coalition of 160 media, civil society and lawyer groups collected more than 16,235 online signatures via Change.org and another 21,965 written signatures.

The group wrote that “it has been a long-drawn struggle for the passage of the FOI Act, due in part to institutional reluctance to see it through.”

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