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MANILA, Philippines -- President Benigno Aquino III wants to see a Freedom of Information law enacted, one of his communications secretaries said Thursday, but a lawmaker wants Malacanang to give a clear signal to Congress about this.
Presidential Communications Operations Office chief Herminio Coloma Jr. said the submission of Malacanang’s version of the FOI bill to Congress should be seen as an indication of Aquino’s commitment to see it enacted.
“Even without a separate announcement from the President, we can look at the singular act of the submission as a wholehearted endorsement of FOI, no ifs or buts of the presidential commitment,” Coloma told members of the House of Representatives during the deliberation on the proposed 2013 budget of his office.
However, Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello said Coloma should tell Congress if Aquino really wants the bill passed because “we don’t see any signal at this point.”
The Palace version has been incorporated into the FOI bill pending in the House, but the measure has remained stuck in the committee on public information, which has conducted only one hearing since January this year.
Freedom of information advocates and the bill’s authors in the House have questioned the inaction of committee chairman, Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, who claimed the delay in deliberations was due to some of his colleagues’ opposition to the measure.
He said some lawmakers insist that a right of reply provision be incorporated into the FOI bill.
An FOI law would give people free access to government documents and other information after.
The bill was almost ratified by the House on the last day of the 14th Congress but was killed by a lack of quorum, which advocates roundly saw as deliberate.
Coloma said when meeting with his officials, Aquino would walk them through the “complexities” of the FOI bill. This prompted the creation of a study group to draft the Palace version of the bill.
However, Coloma pointed out that, despite his support for the FOIL bill’s passage, Aquino is leaving the measure’s fate to Congress.
“There’s the aspect of honoring the independence of this chamber. I have this observation that the President is also very circumspect in the use of the presidency as a bully pulpit or as a place with which to wield significant influence over a co-equal or separate branch,” Coloma said.
Last Monday, August 6, Aquino met around 180 lawmakers in Malacanang and told them over lunch about why the House needed to terminate debates on the Reproductive Health bill and approve the measure.
A few hours after, the House voted to end debates and subject the RH bill to individual and committee amendments for its passage on second reading.