(This post is written by PCIJ Interns Mike Viray and Jodelyn Recierdo.)

THE AQUINO administration may have bitten off more than it can chew. No less than President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has promised to build his “Social Contract with the Filipino People” on the bedrock of transparency and accountability.

Last Monday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda announced the 17 legislative measures that the President will push as his priorities when the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meets on February 28. The list did not include the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

“Despite the very clear categorical statement that he (President) will prioritize this (FOI), ito pa ‘yung nalaglag,” said Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan, national convenor of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition.

In a statement, the Coalition expressed its dismay: “We must confess that the President’s refusal to include the FOI bill in his list of priority measures is a big letdown.”

Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition: “Prioritize the FOI!” (Photo and caption by Aencille Santos and Kim Chermaine Bañares, PCIJ Interns)

The Coalition members and representatives of media and civil society groups had called a press conference to urge the President to include the FOI bill among his priority measures, adding that this was only consistent with his promise that his government will uphold transparency in all its affairs.

An FOI law, the Coalition stated, will not only serve President Aquino’s anti-corruption agenda but serve any agenda for economic growth and social justice. It will facilitate quick progress in most international indices on anti-corruption, good governance and rule of law.

As well, since an FOI law would provide ordinary citizens more access to government programs and services, and “dramatically change the way government will handle information needs,” it added.

About 160 individuals and organizations are members of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition.

At the very least, the Coalition asked Aquino to show “clear signal and concrete action” in support of the FOI bill, even as it appealed to Cabinet members to formally study the latest version of the bill so they may validate the reported concerns they have about its passage.

The FOI Bill will be the most concrete manifestation of the President Aquino’s platform of transparency and good governance, says Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan. (Photo and caption by Aencille Santos and Kim Chermaine Bañares, PCIJ Interns)

“Despite the President’s promise of transparency, the Coalition is still having a hard time passing the bill,” said former Manila Representative Bienvenido Abante Jr., who led the bill to third reading in the 14th Congress as chair of the House Committee on Public Information.

Abante said the approval of the FOI bill will be essential if Aquino plans to keep the promises he made during his campaign for the presidency.

To PCIJ’s Multimedia Director Ed Lingao, an FOI law is exactly what Aquino needs to guide his promise of a “matuwid na daan” or straight and narrow path.

“Bale wala naman ang daang matuwid kung bulag naman lahat ng pasahero. Kung wala tayong nakikita, mukha namang walang corrupt. The President should rethink his priorities,” Lingao said. [What do we need a straight and narrow path for when we would walk on it blind? If we can’t see or know (information), then surely we can’t see corruption when it happens.]

Also present at the press conference were representatives from the following organizations, among others: Institute for Freedom of Information (IFI), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Partido ng Manggagawa, University of the Philippines College of Law, and the Filipino Migrant Workers. – PCIJ, February 2011

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