CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/05 November) — Deputy House Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada expressed dismay over President Aquino’s perceived indifference over the Freedom of Information bill, saying it is “supposed to be the cornerstone of his governance slogan.”
Tanada said it is ironic that the President continues to profess the Filipino people is his boss “when it is becoming apparent he continues to underestimate them.”
“What’s so sad is that President Aquino believes the people will not be responsible enough to handle public information. The citizens are ready to receive information for them to make informed decision,” he said in reaction to Aquino’s recent public pronouncement on the bill.
At the open forum during a gathering of Southeast Asian business leaders on September 29, President Aquino was quoted in media reports as having said “A freedom of information act sounds so good and noble but at the same time, first of all, you’ll notice that here in this country there’s a tendency of getting information and not really utilizing it for the proper purposes.”
The Philippine Press Institute, in its 19-page position paper drafted during a forum on the FoI last October 13 in Makati City, accused President Aquino of being “childish in handling the issue and warned him to stop underestimating the press.” The PPI also demanded immediate enactment of the bill.
“I believe (the Philippine) media is responsible. They know what is right and wrong. The so-called irresponsible media (practitioners) are only a few. Without access to information, reportage of government issues will be open to speculations and tend to be sensationalized,” said Tañada.
Lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan, lead convenor of Right to Know, Right Now Network said in an e-mail to MindaNews that the FoI bills are practically gathering dust in the Committee on Public Information of both the House and the Senate because of “Malacañang’s creation of a study group to address President Aquino’s concerns.”
“Rep. Tañada consulted with the study group and in the process stalled the committee process, in the hope of getting the executive concurrence on a common version. I think that the Senate also waited for the result of the study,” Malaluan said.
However President Aquino, Malaluan added, did not endorse the study group’s proposed amendments “when it was presented to him before the second LEDAC (Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council).”
The Right to Know, Right Now Network–a coalition of organizations and individuals from various sectors–has been at the forefront of the campaign for the enactment of the FoI Bill. The coalition posits that the “public considers access to official information is still so complicated and lengthy for the layperson that by the time the information it needs is released, it may no longer be needed.”
Case in point, Tañada said, was the recent Al Barka Incident. He said most of the reports were speculative because vital public information was not readily available to media.
For his part, Malaluan said the “challenge now is for Congress to proceed even without (President Aquino’s) inclusion of FoI in his legislative priorities.”
“Sen. (Gringo) Honasan has given his commitment to proceed. We are hoping that will have a committee report ready soon,” said Malaluan.
He added that in the House they do not have the same commitment from chair Ben Evardone, a former reporter of Malaya newspaper.
“We are still trying to set a meeting with House Speaker (Feliciano) Belmonte (Jr) to appeal to him to allow the committee process to proceed, similar to the Senate,” Malaluan said.
Malaluan said the House has held one committee hearing on November 23 last year, where it appointed Rep. Tañada as chair of the Technical Working Group to propose a consolidation.
“The TWG met last February 3 and Rep. Tañada has submitted to the committee chair his proposed consolidation of the bills. The Senate has held two hearings, the first on October 14, 2010 and the second was last August 8, this year,” he said.
However, despite the seemingly bleak prospect that the FoI will be enacted into law Tañada remains optimistic.
“We did it in the 14th Congress. I feel we can do it again,” he said.
He said the Committee on Public Information needs to set the FoI Bill as an agenda when sessions resume.
“He (Aquino) has to understand that, even as he keeps on saying his administration is transparent, this institutional reform is not for his term. Because we don’t know if the next administration will be as ‘transparent’ as Aquino’s,” Tañada said. (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)