OTHER priorities take precedence over the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, hence the failure of the Aquino administration to “to live up to its commitments by not making sure a freedom of information bill passed,” according to an undersecretary of the Department of Budget and Management.
In a letter to the OGP Steering Committee, DBM Undersecretary and Chief Information Officer Richard E. Moya said the Aquino government remains committed to pass an FOI law, said a report of the freedominfo.org, an online network of FOI advocates.
“Indeed, we expressed this acknowledgment in the Philippine OGP Action Plan for 2012. However, we must clarify that the government did not explicitly commit to enact the FoI within the Action Plan’s period,” Moya wrote.
Because Congress is “an independent branch of government,” Moya said the administration cannot make commitment to ensure passage, but that it “took important steps in pushing for the enactment of the FoI, including the official transmission to Congress of an Administration version of the bill.”
Nonetheless, Moya reported that the administration has managed to get Congress to assure “the passage of critical socio-economic measures,” but he did not say that this all happened on certification of President Aquino.
He wrote: “These include the Reproductive Health law, which was needed to address serious reversals in maternal health and other Millennium Development Goals; the Sin Tax (excise tax on tobacco and alcohol) Reform measure, to secure urgently needed resources for universal healthcare; and amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) to ensure substantial compliance with international anti-money laundering standards.”
According to freedom.info.org, Moya’s Feb. 13, 2013 letter assured that the government has taken other steps to increase transparency. The letter was sent to the members of the Steering Committee of the OGP.
The Philippines is a founding member and sits on the OGP Steering Committee through Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad. It is not clear why only Moya, and not Abad himself, wrote the OGP Steering Committee members.
Freedominfo.org noted that “that position of leadership was all the more reason that the government should have passed a FOI bill, a campaign promise by President Benigno Aquino, according to critics who asked the OGP to ‘signal’ its disappointment.”
Atty. Nepo Malaluan, co-convenor of the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition and co-director of the Institute for Freedom of Information, and Toby Mendel, executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, in a Feb. 8, 2013 letter to the OGP “expressed the widespread view among FOI supporters in the Philippines that Aquino failed to do enough to encourage legislative action on FOI.”
“They said this was inconsistent with the Philippines’ OGP action plan, which did not promise passage a FOI bill, but called it a ‘critical’ component of the plan. OGP leaders also should be held to a high standard, the critics said,” freedominfo.org reported.
“OGP officials had told FreedomInfo.org said that the OGP Governance and Leadership Subcommittee, meeting by teleconference last week and in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb. 18, likely would discuss the subject,” the report said. “There have been no public statements from the OGP on the matter.”
“OGP officials have said that criticizing governments is not an OGP function. On one other occasion, involving a controversial ‘secrecy bill’ in South Africa, the OGP Steering Committee members from civil society organizations wrote a joint letter expressing their concerns,” freedominfo.org said.
In his letter, Moya said the Aquino administration “has taken great strides in ensuring that the principle of transparency is not only reflected in policies but is also practiced by institutions in their day-to-day operations.”
“Many reforms that make information public in an unprecedented way have been undertaken. For instance, for the first time, national agencies have been required by law to disclose their respective agencies’ budgets, procurement plans, awarded contracts, status of budget implementation and other such relevant information. We have likewise instituted the same disclosure policy for local government units,” Moya wrote.
“Rest assured,” Moya said, “that our government will continue to work hard towards the enactment of an FoI law within the remaining years of the present Administration. Moreover, recognizing that the Philippines has many well-crafted but poorly-implemented laws, we are committed to work with the FoI advocates in building the foundations for a meaningful access to information.”