MANILA, AUGUST 19, 2011 (MANILA TIMES) Written by : LLANESCA T. PANTI REPORTER - THE Freedom of Information (FOI), which seeks to promote transparency and accountability in government, won’t be passed in Congress unless Malacañang endorses it, a House leader said Tuesday.

Rep. Ben Evardone (photo) of Eastern Samar, Chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, noted that Congress would rather wait for the Palace version of the FOI and coalesce it with the House version rather than risk the non-passage of the 10-year-old pending measure.

“Without the blessing of the Palace, I am not 100 percent sure that it will pass Congress. I have a strong feeling and fears that my colleagues will not fully embrace the idea [of having FOI]. Why the risk? Baka matalo rin tayo (We could only lose),” Evardone pointed out.

The FOI bill implements the right of the people to information on matters of public concern guaranteed under Section 7, Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution and the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest under Section 28, Article 2 also of the 1987 Constitution. Likewise, it provides access to information being used for decision making or project management as well as transcripts and minutes of official meetings.

The Palace study group has been deliberating for its version of the FOI for more than a year now. Moreover, President Benigno Aquino 3rd did not list the FOI as one of the priority measures for the second straight year.

Among the contentious provisions of the FOI per the Palace, Evardone said, is the difference between national security and national interest, on what information should be confidential and could be subject to abuse.

Evardone, however, underscored that the FOI will breeze through Congress as soon as the Palace submits its FOI version.

“I don’t want to rush things up. In reality, kung walang basbas, eh hindi pa mapapabuti (if there’s no blessing, it could not be good). We respect the Palace and we would rather wait. If the administration has a stand on it, it (FOI approval) would not take long,” Evardone argued.

But for Rep. Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna who is one of the authors of the FOI measure, excluding the FOI from the priority bills would be hypocrisy on the part of President Aquino considering that his main campaign promise is eradicating corruption in the country.

“It is really inconsistent for PNoy not to prioritize this when even the COA wants it. Again, I call on Congress to just do it and not be held hostage by Malacanang’s objections and delaying tactics,” Casiño added, referring to the Commission on Audit.



[PHOTO -President Benigno Aquino 3rd and ("Little President") Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. (left) go over documents during the second LEDAC meeting in Malacañang on Tuesday. MALACAÑANG PHOTO]

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Tuesday laid out 13 additional priority measures before members of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) that will be part of the administration’s agenda this year.

President Aquino defended his move to keep the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill out of his priority list.

“Marami pong detalye na hindi pa natalakay doon sa mungkahi, ano, ‘di ba. [There were details that were not discussed regarding the FOI bill]. May technical working group tayo [We have a technical working group] under Undersecretary Manolo Quezon who has been tasked to deal with both chambers, various NGOs [non-government organizations], other stakeholders,” the President told a press briefing in Malacañang.

Mr. Aquino, however, said that he would want the FOI bill to be passed during his term, adding that even without the bill, his administration will remain transparent to the public.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said that six out of the 13 bills had been unveiled by the President during his second State of the Nation Address.

The new proposals are: adequate protection for househelps; expansion of science and technology scholarship programs; amendments to the Rural Electrification Law; sin taxes; amendments to the Human Security Act; Data Privacy Act; responsible parenthood (RP) bill; expanded consumer protection; reorganization of the Philippine statistical system; amendments to the PTV-4 law; provision for the delineation of specific forest limits of public domain; 12) stiffer penalties for stealing and tampering with government risk-reduction and preparedness equipment; and amendments to the Lina Law or the Urban Development Housing Act of 1992.

Twelve of the measures are in line with the administration’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP) based on Mr. Aquino’s 16-point agenda or Social Contract with the Filipino People.

The priority bills have been processed and determined by Cabinet clusters.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.—who were present during the press briefing—agreed that both Houses will make time for the proposed 13 measures before making any decision.

RH bill amendments The President said that several changes were made in the RH measure—now called responsible parenthood bill as it gained priority status during the second LEDAC meeting.

Omissions included provisions fixing the ideal number of children to only two and changing the appropriate age for teaching sex education to children at 11 years old or when the child is in grade six or in high school.

The access to artificial contraceptives will still be part of the provisions of the bill but the President said that the revised bill will also include giving parents the option to hold sex education talks by themselves and giving Church-based hospitals the right to distribute artificial or natural family-planning methods within their jurisdiction.

Despite the new priority measures, Ochoa said that the government will still push the passage of the 22 priority measures first submitted during the previous LEDAC session.

Three of the first set of bills have been enacted into law: the Government-Owned and Controlled Corporation (GOCC) Governance Act of 2011 or RA 10149; Rationalizing the Night Work Prohibition on Women Workers or RA 10151; and Resetting and Synchronizing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Elections with the National and Local Elections in 2013 or RA 10153.

Congress also enacted RA 10150, which extended implementation of the lifeline rate to amend the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001.

This amendment was one of four recommended by the executive branch.



PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III needs more time to study a bill that will ensure more transparent access to government documents, a Malacanang official said Monday.

The President "in principle" agrees that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill must be passed, but stressed that certain things need to be addressed, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

The FOI is being studied and there are valid concerns which were raised by the President himself," he said but refused to cite the said concerns.

The measure will not be "dead in the water" even if it will be included in the priority bills that will be tackled in the second Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting on Tuesday, he said. [UPDATE: FOI BILL NOT TACKLED IN 2nd LEDAC, NOT CONSIDERED PRIORITY BILL]

For his part, Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casino, author of an FOI bill pending in the House of Representatives, warned it will be the last chance of Aquino to redeem himself by prioritizing it and ensuring its passage into law.

"Congress has bended back too far on the FOI bill. The House Committee on Public Information has delayed its deliberations and even watered down the bill just to accommodate President Aquino's concerns yet he has failed to include the FOI bill in his priority measures. Tomorrow is his last chance to fulfill his campaign promise," he said.

But Malacanang disagreed the administration still has a lot of time to decide on the bill.

"This is not the last chance -- we've got four years and 11 months to go. There is going to be several Ledac along the way so let us not put a period when there is still a long way off," Lacierda said.

Lacierda could not say for certain if the FOI will be among the measures that will be presented before the members of Congress at the Ledac meeting.

The Palace has yet to release the final list of priority bills that will be tackled in the meeting.

Casino said if the Ledac fails to include the FOI bill as a priority, "then forget about the matuwid na daan."

He said "it will confirm the suspicion of many that transparency and accountability is only being applied to the previous administration and that the President would rather continue the practice of withholding vital information from the public."

Lacierda, meanwhile, stressed that even the FOI advocate believed that Aquino has no problem with the measure.

"This President has been very transparent. We got the e-procurement. We got various officials putting on their website their budget," he said.

Casino earlier said that the House of Representatives will no longer wait for Malacanang's version of the FOI bill and will proceed with its own proposed measure.

Malacanang, on the other hand, said the Congress may pass its version of the bill even without the Malacanang final draft, noting that it will "honor" the legislative process.

The FOI bill has been pending Congress for more than 10 years. In the last Congress, the House of Representatives failed to ratify the measure due to lack of quorum. (Jill Beltran/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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