Freedom of Information critical in addressing corruption

Amid an ongoing congressional investigation on deep-rooted corruption in the military, the Right to Know! Right now! Coalition appealed to President Aquino to reconsider inclusion of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill in his list of legislative priorities. This should send the strongest signal to the country and the world that he remains truly committed to his anti-corruption agenda.

FOI law will play in transforming government culture. As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile observed when he explained the Senate’s commitment to the measure in the last Congress: “I think that if we do this, our desire for a more straightforward and honest government will be accomplished, because then people will have to be very, very careful and circumspect in performing their work in government, in transacting their official business, and in spending the money of the people.” (read full statement here)

Media and civil society groups expressed their concern that the President appeared to be retreating from his earlier commitment to push for the passage of the Freedom of Information, which would guarantee greater citizens’ access to official information such as data, contracts, and documents.

During the presidential campaign, Aquino had repeatedly assured the media that he would support the measure as part of his push for greater transparency and accountability in government. In fact, the President had even expressed his concern when the 14th Congress failed to pass the measure before its adjournment.

It will be recalled President Aquino on June 6, 2010 affirmed his commitment.

This was after Congress adjourned sine die last Friday without the bill’s ratification by the House of Representatives due to lack of quorum.

Asked in an ambush interview if he would prioritize the Freedom of Information bill once he assumes office, Aquino categorically said, “Yes.”

“Iba pa rin ‘yung may force of law (It would be better if there is the force of law). That would be, I think, the more complete route,” he said in the interview aired over GMA Network’s “24 Oras” Sunday night.

Apparently, Malacañang wants to study first different models in first world democracies before it presents a Freedom of Information (FOI) bill it can push in Congress.

Malacañang wants to balance the constitutional right to access to information and issues on privacy and national security.

“Certainly, we are committed to and to uphold the constitutional right to access of information. That’s what we believe in and that is what this administration also would wish to uphold. But then again we have to balance this with the privacy concerns and that is the reason why we are studying several models right now before we come up with a bill,” Lacierda said.

“Before we present a bill, we’d like to as much as possible make the bill as smooth as possible. We address national security concerns, we address privacy concerns. We would also like to prevent the abuse of the use of the Freedom of Information and those are the concerns that we have right now,” he added.

Not many are happy that an important bill like FOI is taking the backseat. It will take time again to have this implemented. Aquino ally Rep. Tañada told ANC Presents he is disappointed that Pres. Aquino did not make FOI a priority bill.

Coalition convenor Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan said the coalition was caught by surprise by this move of malacanang.

“We did not expect the institutional resistance (to the FOI) to come from the President himself who has run on a platform of (transparency) because it was part of the aspirations when people supported his presidency,” Malaluan said.

Without an endorsement, the bill won’t move in Congress. So much for transparency. A lot of people voted for Noynoy because his promises were so good. His platform states that “He believes that government and those running it must share in the values of transparency, personal and institutional integrity, and honesty and good governance.”

The president disappointed most of his supporters. He represented hope, transparency and transformational leadership. The Aquino campaign was about the Courage to stand up and do something, with our eyes open.

If you were sincere in your promises, you would have given priority in these studies. I bet you can get many interns to help you with research.

Give us a timeline, please. President Aquino, Please Keep Your Promise to Make FOI Bill a Priority