19 July 2013

[FYI in the Inquirer] Solons hope FOI will be part of Aquino’s national address

by Karen Boncocan

MANILA, Philippines—Pro-Freedom of Information Bill lawmakers on Friday said they hoped the controversial measure would make it to President Benigno Aquino III’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA).

“I expect the President to discuss the FOI Bill in his SONA,” said Diwa Partylist Representative Emmeline Aglipay.

Aglipay was recently endorsed by fellow pro-FOI lawmakers for the public information committee chairmanship–a position they felt was integral in their plans to push for the controversial measure in the 16th Congress.

“In order for the President to be truly committed to fighting corruption he should prioritize the enactment of a law that ensures transparency and promotes accountability,” she told INQUIRER.net.

The FOI Bill hurdled deliberations in the Senate in the 15th Congress but failed to be passed by the House of Representatives.

After facing delays in the House committee on public information, the measure was stalled in the plenary and was not even debated on.

Lawmakers supporting its passage in the lower chamber of Congress noted how the FOI Bill was not mentioned in the President’s third SONA.

They hoped this time would be different.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr. said that there would always be an “incessant clamor” for the President to declare the measure a priority in every SONA.

“Every SONA, every LEDAC, every presidential policy declaration, there will always be that incessant clamor for FOI being declared a priority,” he said.

Cibac Partylist Representative Sherwin Tugna felt that it “would be a good sign for the bill’s chances of being a law if it would be included as a priority measure in the 16th Congress.”
But even if the FOI Bill does not make it to the President’s fourth SONA, Baguilat said that advocates of its passage would be unfazed.

He maintained that they have been focused on pushing for the bill “from the get-go even without it being mentioned in the SONA.”

“It’s still one of the priorities of this administration to pass the FOI,” he maintained.

Taking their cue from those who pushed for the approval and enactment of the Reproductive Health Law, Baguilat said he felt that they still had to “galvanize a majority of our colleagues in the House.”

He said that they also had to work on getting more support from the public “before we can realistically ask Malacañang or the House leadership to help push it.”

A manifestation of this effort to get the public’s support for the FOI Bill was the 120 youth and student organizations that have joined forces as the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI).

Although the group has been active in the past Congress, it said that it has intensified its efforts to get the youth’s support for the measure.

In a statement, the FYI said it “believes that the real State of the Nation can only be known if we have Freedom of Information.”

“While the administration has expressed support for the FOI Bill, we have yet to see anything positively concrete. Perhaps mentioning the bill in the upcoming SONA may catalyze the favorable action that we want to see on the part of the Executive,” the group said.

But like the pro-FOI lawmakers, the FYI said that the possibility of the President failing to mention the bill on Monday will change “nothing in our steadfast desire in carrying out the youth’s campaign for the People’s FOI.”

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