MANILA - President Benigno Aquino and ruling Liberal Party (LP) lawmakers are to blame for the death of the freedom of information (FOI) bill in the lower House, proponents of the measure said Wednesday.
A manifesto signed by more than 160 activists, media groups, nongovernment organizations, and sectoral leaders said efforts to have the 15th Congress pass the FOI bill went for naught because of Aquino.
"Instead of giving the FOI Bill priority, Aquino hobbled the campaign from the beginning with his variably petty and serious mutating concerns about the FOI Bill. Our reaction was to address these concerns and to engage his Study Group after it was belatedly created," the manifesto said.
It pointed out that the FOI campaign "committed one big error" in trusting Aquino and his promise 3 years ago that the bill will be given top priority.
"Our sad lesson: Words are to candidates cheap, and Presidents lie, indeed," it added.
"The House assured the death of the FOI bill by deliberate inaction. Committee on Public Information Chairman Rep. Ben Evardone, who had jumped ship from the Lakas-Kampi party of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to join Aquino's Liberal Party, simply delayed and cancelled committee hearings on the bill on and on," it said.
"When finally the committee members forced the vote to send the bill to plenary, two more Lakas-Kampi turncoats to LP holding the highest positions in the House – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II – made sure the FOI bill will not get off the ground," it added.
The FOI proponents said Aquino did not listen to their appeal to certify the passage of the bill as an urgent measure.
"His response, given through his spokespersons was curt — he wants to see a 'healthy debate' on the FOI bill in the House," the group said.
"It was an insult to say the least. It was as if the President was clueless about how the triumvirate of Evardone, Belmonte, and Gonzales had made sure that absolutely no debate would happen on the FOI Bill whether in committee or in plenary."
Congress also failed to pass the FOI bill during the Arroyo administration. "The FOI Bill had advanced even much farther in Arroyo’s time when it came just one step away from signing into law. In Aquino’s time, it did not take off at all in the House."
"We know this to be true: The FOI Bill did not pass in the 15th Congress because Aquino and the House of Representatives failed us," the FOI proponents said.
"Today, we bury instead the legacy of ineptitude of the House of Representatives of the 15th Congress, and the falsity of Aquino’s promise as a candidate that he will see to the immediate passage of the FOI Act," they said.
The manifesto's signatories vowed to pursue the campaign to have an FOI law for genuine government transparency.
The signatories include Nepomuceno Malaluan, of the "Right to Know Right Now! Coalition"; Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines; Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; Florangel Rosario-Braid of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communicationl Rowena Paraan of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; Vincent Lazatin of the Transparency and Accountability Network; Luis Teodoro of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; and Red Batario of the Center for Community Journalism and Development.