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President Aquino supports FOI Bill -- Coloma

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Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio "Sonny" Coloma said President Benigno Aquino III continues to support the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill.

Coloma gave the assurance during the budget hearing on Thursday of the PCOO at the committee on appropriations of the House of Representatives.

At the hearing, Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello asked the PCOO Secretary on the President's stand with regards to the FOI Bill that has been stuck at the House committee on public information.

"We want to clarify, once and for all, what President Aquino's stand is on FOI. It has been stuck in the committee for the better part of the 15th Congress, and legislators are getting the message that it may not be a priority of the administration after all," he said.

Coloma assured the Akbayan party-list solon that the President is for the FOI, adding that it is not the President’s character to declare support for a proposal if he does not mean it.

He clarified that President Aquino’s silence on the measure must not be misinterpreted to mean that FOI is not a priority, but is in fact only the President’s respect for the separation of powers, and the independence of the legislative as a co-equal branch of government.

To underscore the administration’s commitment to FOI, Coloma said the President even has ordered the PCOO to draft the FOI implementing guidelines according to the specifications of the various government agencies' structures.

He noted the PCOO is drafting rules and regulations per agency in anticipation of FOI’s eventual passage to ensure that the various government agencies’ policies will be in line with securing the people’s unimpeded access to information.

Coloma also said that Malacanang’s release of its own version of the bill, to ensure that national security, foreign relations, diplomacy and business stability concerns are duly addressed, is a clear indication that FOI is a priority of the administration.

Bello lauded the PCOO official’s update on the FOI Bill, pointing out that this indeed secured the administration’s commitment to institutionalize transparency and accountability in government.

"That Malacanang is setting the stage for FOI in the executive is truly a welcome development," he said.

The FOI Bill seeks to provide greater access to government records and to ensure transparency in government transactions in order to battle corruption and promote good governance.

Around 117 congressmen earlier signed a manifesto urging Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, to put the measure to a vote so it could be tackled in the plenary.

Evardone, however, said the bill would be discussed first in caucus to iron out its contentious issues, like the possible inclusion of a right-of-reply provision as well as safeguards to prevent its abuse or misuse.

He said this would expedite the progress of the bill and ensure that it would not be bogged down in debates.

By PNA




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