No marching orders on FOI - Palace

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 10 2012 12:53 AM | Updated as of Aug 11 2012 12:49 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino would not issue marching orders for his congressmen-allies to approve the controversial Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, Secretary Herminio Coloma said Thursday.

“The President recognizes that Congress is a co-equal body. It is my observation that he is very circumspect in wielding a significant influence on a co-equal body,” Coloma told the House appropriations committee.

Coloma heads the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the successor of the old Office of the Press Secretary. He attended a hearing on his agency’s 2013 budget.

While Aquino is “circumspect” as to refrain from issuing a marching order, Coloma said there is no doubt that the President wants Congress to approve the FOI bill.

He said Malacañang’s submission of its FOI version to the legislature “is a wholehearted endorsement” of the proposed law giving media and the public access to official information.

“I don’t think there are ifs and buts in the presidential commitment to FOI,” Coloma said.

In fact, Aquino has ordered state agencies to draft implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) in anticipation of the eventual approval of the FOI bill, he added.

Coloma pointed out that these agencies would “have varying IRRs” and each would have to “customize their rules to respond to the public’s demand for information.”

“This preparation is parallel to the legislative process,” he stressed.

During the hearing, Cagayan Rep. Rufus Rodriguez suggested that Malacañang should recruit better speechwriters who could write “great speeches” for Aquino.

“The President’s speeches should be more effective, relevant and memorable to the people,” he said.

Coloma told Rodriguez that presidential speeches are handled by the group of Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, which he said is separate from his agency.

Like on the FOI, Aquino did not categorically tell his allies to approve another controversial measure – the Reproductive Health (RH) bill – when he met with them in a Palace luncheon caucus last Monday.

In a statement issued after the caucus, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, “This afternoon, the President met with a multi-party caucus composed of members of the majority and minority of the House of Representatives. Congressmen for and against the Responsible Parenthood (RP) bill were present.”

“The President expressed his opinion on the RH bill and had a healthy discussion with congressmen with different persuasions and positions. All sides were heard and considered. Even minority congressmen and those opposed to the measure were given the opportunity to air their side,” Lacierda said.

“The President echoed the view that the responsible parenthood measure had been discussed thoroughly over the past several years and expressed his desire that Congress move on to the next step in the legislative process,” he added.

Later that afternoon, Aquino’s House allies overwhelmingly voted to terminate floor debates on the RP bill and to move to the next stage of the legislative process – the period for amendments.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has expressed confidence that the House would eventually vote to approve the bill.