|Aquino 'double talk' on FOI|
|Written by Fernando R. Cabigao Jr.|
|Friday, 23 September 2011 00:00|
President Benigno S. Aquino III lacks the political will to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, the coalition of freedom of information advocates said in a September press statement.
“More than 14 months into his term, President Aquino has not mustered the political will to honor his campaign pact with the people to assure the passage of the FOI act, the legislation the country needs to provide substantive, procedural, and institutional guarantee to the people’s constitutional right to information,” The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition statement said.
A Malacañang official said that the Palace cannot just push for the measure because Aquino has to consider the concerns of other stakeholders.
In a press briefing last Sept. 16, R2KRN said it is disappointed with Aquino’s non-inclusion of the FOI bill in the legislative priorities of his administration.
“Ang hinahanap sana namin dun sa action plan ng Pangulo ay malinaw na commitment (What we’re looking for in the President’s action plan is a clear commitment) to pass the Freedom of information bill within a given timeframe and certainly no later than the term of the current congress and for them to be able to do that, the President should already come up with a very definitive list of his concerns of the FOI bill, get his executive branch to finish the proposed amendments to address his concerns and submit it to congress for wide consultation and legislative action, “lawyer and Institute for Freedom of Information co-director Nepomuceno Malaluan said. Malaluan is also the chosen country representative of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) forum in New York.
President Aquino was in New York City on September 20 for the OGP forum which brought together governments and representatives of civil society, industry, academe and media to discuss the role of openness in improving government responsiveness and accountability, fighting corruption, and creating efficiencies, innovation and growth.
The draft action plan of the President for an executive policy on access to information prepared by the Department of Budget and Management presented during the launch of the OGP forum only stated that the “government would strive for the passage of the FOI Act within the current presidency, in consultation with civil society organizations.”
“We do not find comfort in the draft plan’s statement that President Aquino’s administration will ’strive for the passage of a Freedom of Information Act within the current presidency.’ On the contrary, it has been his statements of concern and refusal to endorse the passage of the FOI law that has been the main reason why it is now languishing in the House of Representatives, and moving at a snail’s pace in the Senate,” the coalition said.
The coalition said Aquino scored political (and economical) points on the world stage when he presented a rosy picture of the transparency, accountability, and participation initiatives of his administration during his remarks at the conference in New York.
“But on the home front, we do not find credible basis for President Aquino to beat his breast as an exemplar of transparency and open government in the world,” the group added.”Failing in this, we call a spade a spade: double talk is the Aquino government’s FOI policy.”
Meanwhile, the Palace said it could understand the concerns of the media and civil society groups pushing for the FOI Act, but said the government would have to balance with the demands for an FOI its concerns with classified documents.
“We understand the concerns of many sectors, considering what happened in the previous administration. But we cannot just push the measure because the president has to take into consideration the concerns of other stakeholders. We cannot just push ahead just to satisfy the needs of one sector,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on government-run dzRB radio.
“We understand their impatience since they have been pushing for this law since the past administration when it came so close to passing this into law. We understand their feeling that they want it passed now… but we cannot hastily act on it,” Valte added.
The NGOs and media advocacy groups campaigning for an FOI have raised serious objections to the Malacanang versions of an FOI bill, which, rather than make information on government more accessible, would actually restrict it. CMFR, a member of the R2KRN coalition, has declared that no FOI law is preferable to a bad one. CMFR