Palace: 'Spirit of FOI' already in effect

MANILA, Philippines – The passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill – one of the campaign promises of President Benigno Aquino III – may still be pending, but Malacañang sought to give assurances that the spirit of the measure is already in effect.

In a press briefing on Sunday, August 3, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the President is still committed to the measure. Coloma said that even without the bill's passage, government agencies are already striving to be transparent.

"Even if it has not been passed, the government is already implementing the aims of the measure. The spirit of the Freedom of Information bill is very much alive in all agencies of the government," Coloma added.

Aquino was silent on the FOI bill during his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28, a glaring omission hit by critics calling for greater transparency in government. 

Languishing in Congress for over a decade, the FOI bill aims to institutionalize citizens' right to know by allowing them access to government documents and information of high public interest.

Despite the omission in the SONA, Senator Grace Poe, principal sponsor of FOI in the Senate, said she still believes the bill has a chance of passing in the House of Representatives, where the bill has traditionally met strong opposition. 

Coloma also sought to dispel speculations that the FOI bill ranked 18th in Aquino's list of priority bills.

On July 30, Malacañang submitted to the House of Representatives the list of proposed laws that Aquino wants prioritized during the second regular session of Congress.

The FOI bill was listed at number 18. Coloma said the number does not mean the bill is 18th in Aquino's priority bills.

"Just because it was placed at number 18 does not mean the FOI bill does not rank high in the list of priorities. It was simply an enumeration. The speed by which bills are passed into law depend on different variables," Coloma said.

Asked if the President is committed to the passage of the FOI bill despite not certifying it as urgent, Coloma said, "That also depends on the commitment of stakeholder groups to pressure their lawmakers, and if a consensus could be reached to speed up the process." –