Philippines FOI Coalition Says Aquino, House Killing FOI Bill

20 August 2015

“The FOI Bill is dead,” according to its supporters in the Philippines.

The pessimistic statement Aug. 20 from 19 organizations and individuals in the Right To Know, Right Now Coalition is based on their assessment that President Benigno Aquino and the House leadership have not demonstrated determination to pass the bill.

Aquino and Congress “are not ready to overcome their selfish fears and take the side of public interest on the issue of FOI,” according to the Coalition assessment reported in The Manila Standard.

Aquino put the FOI bill in his list of priority legislation, replied his Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., also saying, “On record, the Speaker of the House has also included this bill in the list of priority legislation that the House leadership would like to take up in their session, and I think the record would speak for itself.” Aquino did not mention FOI in his State of the Nation Address, as he has for the five previous SONAs, although he had made passing a FOI bill a campaign promise.

Asked for an assessment of the bill’s prospects, Coloma said, “We will just await the developments and we believe that the House leadership will do what is needed to be able to ensure action on the priority legislation.”

The Coalition statement said:

For all his administration’s breast beating about transparency, President Aquino has not mustered the political will to honor his campaign pact with the people to assure the passage of FOI. Instead, early in his term, the promise of support turned into ever-mutating Presidential concerns over the FOI bill. Even after his concerns were addressed in the consolidated versions that emerged in Congress, we have not seen credible proof of his personal push for the measure.

Coalition members plan to hold a funeral march and “indignation rally” on Aug. 26.

“From our years of campaigning for the passage of the FOI Act, this we know for certain: without decisive support from the President and the leadership of the House of Representatives, the bill will not pass,” the Coalition said.

FOI legislation has passed in the Senate and is awaiting second reading in the House, where leaders have long pledged its passage.

The Coalition wrote:

We are witness to Speaker Belmonte’s repeated promises on FOI that is not matched by action. The Speaker, under the rules, is the political and administrative head of the House of Representatives. He is responsible for the overall management of the proceedings of the House. He is primarily responsible for preparing the legislative agenda for every regular session, with the view of ensuring the full deliberation and swift approval especially of priority measures. Yet on the ground the Speaker has not lifted a finger to give FOI a positive push. On the contrary, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales, the Speaker’s chief enforcer, is already laying the basis for all excuses for FOI’s non-passage. We can almost hear the tired and disingenuous refrain, “we tried our best, but we lacked time”.

Some HOuse FOI supporters say the pending bill is too favorable to the executive branch, reported ABS-CBN News.

The Coalition said it will “take the road of FOI Practice.”

It explained:

In the past year, the coalition has already been systematizing the coordination and documentation of experience in our information requests relating to our respective advocacies. We will scale this up to include administrative and judicial interventions to address the problems that we thought Congress, with decisive push from the President, would address though a comprehensive and progressive legislation. In this fight we will also engage the constitutionally mandated independent accountability institutions, such as the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit, and the Ombudsman.

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