Palace to press for FOI, Bangsamoro laws
MANILA, Philippines - Malacanang will push for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill and the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the 16th Congress, along with 15 other proposals that the Aquino administration deemed urgent.
Presidential Legislative Liaison Officer Secretary Manuel Mamba told reporters that the 17 bills would be presented to members of Congress in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council that the Palace would convene next month.
According to Mamba, the 17 proposed measures were chosen from the list of 51 submitted by the different Cabinet clusters based on their studies.
The Palace version of the FOI bill requires the expanded and online publication of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of the president, the vice president, members of the Cabinet, members of Congress, members of the Supreme Court, officers of the Armed Forces with the rank of general or flag officer, and members of constitutional commissions and other constitutional offices.
The FOI bill is again being pushed by various sectors due to the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel fund scam to further promote transparency.
During the impeachment trial of ousted chief justice Renato Corona, the SALNs of government officials also became a focus of discussion.
Corona was removed from office after the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, convicted him of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
The court ruled that Corona was guilty of Article II of the impeachment complaint after the chief justice failed to disclose all his assets in his SALN.
But the Palace bill lists 10 exceptions, including information that should be kept secret such as those directly related to national security and foreign affairs that might weaken the negotiating position of the country or jeopardize diplomatic relations of the country.
Records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation invoked by the president to be privileged and are considered part of the president’s deliberative process are also exempted from disclosure, as well as information pertaining to trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained in confidence or covered by privileged communication.
The Palace version of the FOI also excluded the proposed creation of an Information Commission, which was envisioned to have quasi-judicial powers to solve disputes between state agencies and any party seeking disclosure of public documents.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law seeks to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as part of the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The FOI bill perished despite its passage in the Senate during the 14th and 15th Congress because it never passed third and final reading in the House of Representatives.
In the 14th Congress, the FOI Bill went as far as passing the bicameral conference committee, “but was not ratified into law by the House,” he said.
Mamba said they ran out of time to push the FOI bill in the 15th Congress and admitted that the PDAF scam and the budget debates would also have to be dealt with.
But he said the measure had always been a priority, although never certified as urgent by Aquino.
Mamba explained the President did not want to abuse his power to certify bills as urgent.
He expressed confidence that the bill would pass in the first legislative session because it was a popular measure.
Mamba said the lawmakers could be expected to support a popular measure being pushed by a popular president.
He said there should be no issue as regards the lawmakers’ backing despite the pork barrel issue.
“They (advocates) should not worry because this will be prioritized,” Mamba said, noting that the President never dangled the pork barrel to anyone just to have a measure passed.
Mamba said the President would exert effort to call the lawmakers even one by one just to get a consensus as he explained his position.