ON THE EVE OF President Benigno S. Aquino III’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, youth groups called on the President to finally make an unequivocal statement of support for the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill when he addresses both chambers of Congress during the SONA.
This will be the second to the last SONA to be delivered by President Aquino before he steps down in 2016. The President had earlier expressed his support for the FOI bill when he was still running for president; however, Congress has failed to pass the measure because of what appeared to be mixed signals coming from Malacanang. The President has held off certifying the measure as urgent, even as he has become increasingly critical of the media.
More recently, the President has again started issuing statements in support of the FOI bill’s passage, saying earlier this month that the measure will see the light of day before his term ends in 2016.
However, FOI advocates have been trying to remind Malacanang of the danger of waiting until the last minute, or the last year, before putting its shoulders behind the measure.
The FOI Youth Initiative, a network of FOI advocates in the youth sector, released a statement Sunday asking the President to declare his support for the FOI measure during the SONA.
“We urge President Benigno S. Aquino III to make a stronger commitment to approve this important piece of legislation through an explicit declaration of support in his upcoming State of the Nation Address tomorrow,” the group said.
“The reforms being undertaken by this Administration will remain incomplete if we do not have a law that institutionalizes transparency, accountability, and people’s participation in governance. Corruption shall prevail over the promise of change if Malacañang and Congress will not act swiftly to push for the enactment of the People’s FOI Act,” the group said.
Asked whether the President was including the FOI bill in his SONA, where he usually discusses his legislative priorities, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda told FOI advocates last Friday that things were not yet certain as the speech was still being crafted.
However Lacierda pointed out that the President has already made a commitment to have the measure passed before he steps down in 2016, and that the President is bound to keep his word.