Negros lawmakers defend Aquino on FOI bill

LAWMAKERS from Negros Occidental defended President Benigno Aquino III from criticisms that the Chief Executive snubbed the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) Monday.

Fourth district Representative Jeffrey Ferrer said the FOI bill is already in the committee level of the House of Representatives.

Ferrer added that there was no need for the President to mention it in his speech, adding they only have to fast-track the committee report to be taken up in the plenary for debate and discussion.

Asked if the FOI bill will be enacted into law before Aquino's term ends, the lawmaker replied: "If the President really, really wants it."

Bacolod City lone district Representative Evelio Leonardia said, "we cannot make conclusions just because the FOI was not mentioned in the Sona."

"On the basis of the public pronouncements of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., it looks like there is a good chance it would eventually be passed in the lower House," he said.

Leonardia though noted, "Let us wait and see how the House of Representatives will treat the FOI bill."

Last July 15, the President vowed to support the FOI bill during a Daylight Dialogue with World Bank representatives and the business sector.

The President told the group that there is a need for the FOI to become a law.

"We have suggested to Congress certain amendments to the proposed measure that will make it really a doable activity for government," he noted.

President Aquino, however, said he cannot certify the bill as urgent "because the Constitution requires an emergency" for such action.

"But the assurance I think should be given at this point that it will be passed before the end of my term," the President said.

Earlier this month, Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on people's public information and mass media, expressed optimism that the House of Representatives will pass the FOI bill under the term of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

With 22 votes, the Senate passed on third and final reading the FOI bill or Senate Bill 1733 last March 10.

The FOI bill seeks to give the public the right to request and be granted access to records or information that is under the control of government unless the information requested would jeopardize national security.

"FOI is very simple. It will give the people arms to ask for documents from the government such as biddings and projects," Poe said.

The senator added that studies showed that graft and corruption were minimized in countries with strong FOI law.

A total of 94 nations have already enacted their own FOI legislation while another 53 countries are in the process of ratifying their respective FOI laws, she said.

"The FOI will not only prevent graft and corruption but more importantly, our citizens will learn to get involved and participate in government matters," Poe said. (With reports from PNA)

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