Why lawmakers are afraid of FOI law
MANILA - Calls to pass the freedom of information (FOI) bill have become louder amid the scandal hounding lawmakers' pork barrel funds.
On Wednesday, the Senate committee on public information and mass media will hold its first hearing on the FOI bill, which was shelved by previous congresses.
Veteran journalist Vergel Santos of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) believes that there shouldn't even be an argument about the proposed law.
"I cannot understand why this bill has touched off so much debate. It is undebatable. You may not like the bill but you can't argue against it," he told ANC Prime Time on Tuesday.
The Senate version of the bill was approved by the upper House in the previous Congress but gathered dust in the lower House, allegedly because of lawmakers allied with President Benigno Aquino.
Santos believes that lawmakers themselves are afraid of an FOI law.
"The bill has been hanging for so long because its first potential target are lawmakers themselves. Therefore the bill is up against a political class," he said.
"If you put a bill through Congress, it will be complicated to suit certain interests," he added.
"National security is a concern, we have conceded that. Another one is diplomacy, that I cannot understand. The whole thing is complicated because it is too damn clear," he said.
"What is the bill about? It is about making public information. It is nothing to object to. What we want are simple sanctions for custodians of public records who refuse to grant a request for information from that record," Santos said.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma, meanwhile, said the Aquino administration is doing its part in making government more transparent.
"Walang makapagsasabi na itong administrasyon na ito ay hindi naniniwala sa FOI," he told ANC Prime Time in a telephone interview.
"We are already practicing (transparency) in day-to-day transactions in government without waiting for the FOI bill to be passed," he added.
FOI advocates, meanwhile, are not satisfied with the Palace.
Vincent Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, believes that the executive department should support the current versions of the FOI bill.
"All of the president's concerns are in current versions of the FOI bill. So what fine tuning remains?" he asked on Twitter.
"So is Coloma saying that FOI is not urgent? After 14 years of trying to get it passed?" he added.
The Senate hearing on the FOI bill Wednesday will be attended by Coloma and Undersecretary Manolo Quezon of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, as well as officials of the National Security Council and the Justice Department.
Representatives from the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the National Press Club, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the CMFR, and members of the academe will also attend the hearing. - with ANC