MANILA, Philippines - President-elect Benigno Aquino III vowed to prioritize the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) once he assumes office.
The House of Representatives drew flak for failing to ratify it on its last session, the proposed bill which will make available to the public, all information, documents, researches, and transactions of all government bodies. The Senate earlier approved the bill, and adopted a resolution urging the House to do the same so that the measure would be enacted into law.
"We can just review and study it better and of course, there are many new members of Congress. It is a matter of prioritizaton, and which will have to be tackled by the LEDAC (Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council)," said Aquino.
Several groups, including the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), are pushing for the passage of the FOI bill in Aquino's first 100 days in office.
"The bill's approval inside the first 100 days of the new administration will surely give meaning to Mr. Aquino's forceful anti-corruption stance," said former Senator Ernesto Herrera, secretary-general of the TUCP.
Herrera said labor groups are counting on the FOI bill "to promote absolute transparency, reinforce public accountability and repel malfeasance in government."
He said the FOI will improve governnance which is vital to drawing in more investments and creating badly needed new jobs.
According to the Office of the Ombudsman, corruption costs the government about P240 billion every year.
The Philippines ranked 139th among 180 countries in the 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International. With a score of 2.4 points in 2009, the country’s ranking improved only slightly from 141st in 2008.
The index score relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business leaders and country analysts. The score ranges from zero, which is highly corrupt, to 10 points, which is very clean.
The FOI bill mandates all state offices to make available for public scrutiny, all information regarding official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as statistics used for policy development.
Information exempt from the measure's coverage include those declared by the President as "classified," compiled for internal or external defense and law enforcement, obtained by Congress in executive session, on medical and personnel records that may invade privacy, and pertaining to current treaty negotiations, among others.
The measure limits the executive privilege to withhold sensitive information only in times of war and emergency.