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MANILA, Philippines -- Access to information advocates urged President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday to underline his commitment to transparency by making “a clear and firm endorsement of the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in his state of the nation address on July 23.”
The challenge was contained in a letter to Aquino from the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition that was delivered through Press Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III.
The letter was signed by 80 signatories representing the160 organizations in the coalition who said they were moved to write partly by a statement from Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda who said Aquino is open to suggestions on the themes and content of his SONA.
The FOI bill was not mentioned in the first two SONAs of Aquino.
The letter said that the 2013 elections “would in part be a referendum on how President Aquino’s administration, midway in its term, has been keeping to its mandate of change.”
Although they acknowledged that Aquino “has staked political capital to stand on the side of transparency,” the signatories said “the fight to transform government is far from over.”
"The question is whether the path towards higher norms of governance that you espouse can be institutionalized through a truly transformed culture in public service,” they said.
An FOI law, they said, “will make transparency the mandatory norm rather than a mere discretion and an unevenly implemented policy for government. It could well serve as the solid foundation for ‘daang matuwid’ (straight path), to carry on to succeeding administrations."
The coalition also said Aquino’s leadership would be crucial in prodding the House of Representatives to pass the FOI bill, which remains stuck in the House committee on public information chaired by Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone.
It noted that the House has only conducted two committee hearings on the measure.
“Even the President's Liberal Party and administration coalition allies in the House have largely ignored his verbal push for the passage of the FOI bill over the last six months,” it noted.
In contrast, almost all members of the Senate endorsed a substitute bill that has already been sponsored in plenary.