Who’s blocking Freedom of Information?

Some quarters, including the media, are blaming President Noynoy Aquino or PNoy for the long delay in the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. They say the FOI’s main obstruction is P-Noy’s fear, uneasiness, reluctance, or passivity.

Some politicians in the House of Representatives then use this as an excuse not to act on FOI, killing it softly, ostensibly to protect the President and gain his favor.

Take this story from Interaksyon,com (16 January 2013), which reinforces the above perception. The title is: “With time running out, PNoy remains passive on FOI.” Really? Read the article; the author of the story, Dexter San Pedro, quotes PNoy’s remarks:

“’Well, tatanunginnganatin, ilangarawnalangnatitirasa session ngKongresopagpasok. ‘Di ba, prosesonila ‘yan.Naibigaynanaminang inputs naminsa FOI. Angpagkaintindiko’ymatatanggap ’yungmga amendments naminungkahinamin so hinihintaynanamin ‘yung finished na output [There are only a few session days left for Congress. But that is their process, right? We have already given our inputs on the FOI. Our understanding is that they have accepted the amendments that we have proposed so we are waiting for the finished output].”’

PNoy’s statement above should by now dispel any doubt about his desire to have the FOI passed. FOI was his election campaign promise. The FOI is a crucial element of the administration’s open government program (OGP).

The expression of Malacañangcommitment to FOI is found in its inputs and amendments to the Congress bill. In fact these have been incorporated into the House’s FOI bill, sponsored by Representative Erin Tañada and others. The House bill reflects and upholds the Malacañangview on FOI. The House bill is essentially the Malacañang bill.

The perception that PNoy is passive about FOI or even resistant to it is thus dead wrong. Yes, he has concerns about the misuse of government information (understandable in light of attempts of vested interests to use any means to undermine the credibility of his reforms) and the threat to national security (understandable in light of the tense maritime disputes between the Philippines and China). But the FOI bill approved by the Senate and the bill pending in the House have amply addressed these concerns.

PNoy is now signaling Congress to act on FOI. To repeat and paraphrase what PNoy said: Malacañang is done with the amendments and inputs for FOI and have submitted them to Congress. Congress has accepted accepted them. We are waiting forCongress to make the final output, which is the passage of the bill. So to the House leadership, just do it!

Yet what has the House leadership done? The opposite of what PNoy wants it to do. It has not calendared the FOI, which has been approved by the House’s Public Information Committee, for the plenary debate.

Each session day is critical. Only nine sessions days remain before Congress adjourns, and by then everyone will be attending to the elections.

Not calendaring the FOI for discussion means only one thing: The House leadership is sabotaging the FOI. It cannot even accommodate a debate on the FOI.

We anticipate the leadership’s excuse. Speaker Sonny Belmonte and Majority Floor Leader Boyet Gonzales will tell the FOI champions in Congress that they are doing PNoy a favor by not having FOI passed. They will announce to everyone that they are trying their best to pass FOI, but there’s not enough time to have it passed.

All this is BS. Speaker Belmonte, also known as SB, will be made accountable for the non-passage of the FOI in this Congress. SB cannot use as an excuse the lack of time because he and Boyet Gonzales have used all the tricks to delay its passage. Moreover, it will be ugly and awful for SB and his followers to use PNoy as the excuse for failing to pass FOI.

We applauded SB before, for despite the intense pressure from his peers in Congress, he facilitated the impeachment of former Chief Justice Corona and the approval of important controversial bills, namely the sin tax reform and reproductive health (or responsible parenthood).

But it will be a great tragedy for SB if it turns out that he is the main obstacle to FOI. Let not his record be stained; let it not be him who causes embarrassment to PNoy, Malacañang and Congress. Ultimately, SB must act to move forward the FOI and prevent this disaster from happening.

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