Why PNoy hates/distrusts Freedom of Information bill

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By Atty. Pachico A. Seares

Media's Public

Friday, March 14, 2014


PRESIDENT Noynoy Aquino hasn’t said he opposes the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. Neither has any of his spokespersons.

On the contrary, on record, he promised in his 2010 campaign for election the passage of the law.

Before he assumed office on June 30 of that year, he said he’d give priority to the legislation, it being needed for transparency, a major plank of his government.

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But for the last three years he hasn’t mentioned the FOI in the state-of-the-nation addresses. Clearly, he hasn’t seen the bill as a measure he needs to certify as urgent.

Four years into his six-year term, he hasn’t shown interest in FOI. Malacañang’s latest explanation is a classic display of twisted double talk about the presidential stand.

Pressure from voters

Communications chief Sonny Coloma, responding to the approval of the bill on final reading in the Senate, said last March 12 it is the legislators who are elected by the people and are accountable to them. It will be more effective if the “pressure” will come from the voters, Coloma said.

Huh? What happens to the president’s duty to lead by telling legislators what measures they must pass for his governance to succeed? It’s common knowledge that in the House, where an alliance of political groups led by the Liberal Party dominates, lawmakers take their cue from the Palace.

The talk about a Malacañang order on the FOI bill was to “dribble and dribble,” disclosed by Sen. J.V. Ejercito during his Cebu visit, was validated by the record in the House that has sat on the bill year after year.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s promise to have FOI passed during his watch baffles instead of clarifies. Why wait for the expiry of his term if he could make things happen and, unlike the Palace power brokers, he didn’t depend on the “pressure” from the people on the legislators?

Speaker’s condition

Belmonte’s condition of his willingness to be executed if he’d renege on his vow is ludicrous if not only for the reality that it reflects the extent of his power. But that also raises the suspicion that PNoy might allow the bill but wouldn’t want it to govern the the present administrators, only the next Palace occupants.

Why the apparent distrust if not hate of the FOI?

PNoy, who has been less than candid about the bill may have been swayed by the arguments of allies and advisers that through the years have trickled out from the center of power:

The bill will be used by administration critics to pounce on it. If their enemies have been harsh on issues not resting on solid facts, how much more if they had access to them under the law?

There are “hawsiao” media practitioners who’d use information they could get legitimately but use illegally for extortion.

Many lawmakers have bitter experience with reporters and editors and withholding the FOI bill would be a way of getting back at the hostile press and use it to trade for curbs on journalists, such as the right-of-reply measure.

No love lost

In a number of instances, the president openly criticized media and harped on its faults like magnifying government lapses and obscuring its successes.

PNoy’s tirades at the Philippine Press Institute annual conference and the ABS-CBN News Patrol celebration exemplified a “no-love-lost” attitude towards the press.

Yet this hate or distrust of media he couldn’t give as reason for not using his influence to pass the FOI bill. Coloma’s spin about PNoy being “circumspect in the use of presidential power” crashes when one remembers how Mr. Aquino tapped the same reservoir of authority in having Supreme Court chief Renato Corona impeached and convicted, Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas Gutierrez driven to resignation, and the reproduction and health bill steamrolled over the fierce resistance of the Catholic Church.

PNoy, it would appear, cannot admit that he has changed his mind about the FOI bill and that he now sees it as an ogre that could make his governance in the last three years of his term miserable.

Terrible irony

And he may not be entirely wrong about his fear of the bill. There’s the terrible irony that while FOI could help bring about the transparency needed to combat corruption, it could also inflict casualties in his political camp, including his presidency.

PNoy must know by now that he couldn’t have full control of forces and people in government but he could be held responsible for sins and errors despite an avowed commitment to do what is right.

Even media, which has vigorously pushed with other sectors for FOI, might not responsibly use the new power. But that, surely, wouldn’t justify blocking the bill.

Press freedom can’t be denied or not enhanced just because it might be abused.

(The writer is executive director of Cebu-Citizens Press Council (CCPC) but his views here are not the views of the council or its members.)

[public and standardsunstar.com.ph]

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 15, 2014.

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