By Virgilio J. Bugaoisan
The Daily Tribune
President Aquino, then a senator eyeing the presidency, demanded the passage of the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill that was then up for a vote in the House of Representatives’ plenary. It was being argued that the FoI bill will not only bring transparency to government, but also enable the people to obtain documents related to the Gloria Arroyo administration and government.
The passage of the FoI bill was Aquino’s campaign promise then. He has reneged on that pledge, after his assumption to Malacañang, now fearful that passing that measure would open him and his administration to public scrutiny.
Despite pronouncements that he is all for the immediate enactment of the FoI measure, Aquino has ordered the withdrawal
of the measure from being included in the list of priority measures which will be presented by Malacañang in today’s Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting.
This was admitted by Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda as he explained that Aquino still has some serious “concerns” over “political and economic” ramifications of the measure if finally passed into law, despite his previous die-hard position pushing the approval of the FoI measure during the past administration.
Apart from the FoI, Lacierda hinted that another measure which was expected to be included in Aquino’s list of priority measures but was not listed for discussion in the Ledac meeting, is the Reproductive Health (RH) bill which he also claims to support.
“The FoI is being studied, we have certain concerns, valid concerns, which we are going to raise, which have been raised by the President himself, and it’s not dead in the water. There’s a vigorous debate on the FoI, and just to give you an example, in our meeting this morning with the President, we were precisely discussing the FoI. The President agrees with the FoI in principle but there are certain things, which we have to..certain concerns which have to be addressed. And there were certain specific concerns – I am not sure I am at liberty to disclose that – but there were concerns which the FoI Bill must be able to address, “ Lacierda said in a press briefing Monday.
Although at first, Lacierda was hesitant to directly admit that the FoI measure was withdrawn from Malacanang’s list of priority measures, he finally admitted that the controversial bill which is being lobbied by various media groups will not be in the agenda in today’s Ledac meet.
He insisted however that this is just a temporary setback for FoI lobbyists because after all, the president “still has four years” as president with which time he can push the passage of the bill.
Moreover, Lacierda claimed that there is no need to rush the approval of the FoI bill because the president has been very transparent anyway and has been observant of the principles being guaranteed by the measure.
“I think the FoI advocates believe that there is no problem with this president; this president has been very transparent. We have the e-procurement, we have gotten his various Cabinet officials putting on their website their budgets, and in fact there’s a thrust right now for the local governments as well to do that. We have been very transparent. It’s a concern that after this president leaves this office, there might not be the same kind of president who is for transparency,” Lacierda said.
“Our President is for transparency, but again, let me state their concerns. This is not the last chance – we have got four years and 11 months to go, there’s going to be several Ledacs along the way, let’s not put a period when there’s still a long way off,” he added.
And despite its non-inclusion in Aquino’s second Ledac meeting, Lacierda said the president is still supportive of the FoI bill and would surely underwrite its enactment once all the concerns over the bill has been properly addressed.
Apart from the FoI, Lacierda gave a clue that the controversial RH measure which is being rabidly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, will not be also included in the Ledac agenda.
Lacierda said that the 22 or 23 pieces of legislative measures which were approved by the President as part of his administration’s priority measures are either new measure or are proposed amendments to existing legislation.
Asked if the list include revived legislations such as the FoI and RH measures, Lacierda said there was none that was included in the agenda.
“You have the five clusters, all the clusters proposed bills to the meeting we had last Friday, and all the bills that were discussed from among the five clusters, the cluster heads, the cluster proponents explained the bills,” he said although he refused to directly admit that RH bill was also not included in the Ledac agenda.
“Some of them went through and some of them passed, and we decided that they will be part of Ledac. Some of them did not, as what Usec (Abigail) Valte said last weekend, some were referred back to their particular clusters for details; some were referred because they were too broad. There was greater demand for clarification, for more focused bills,” he added.