Mar defends admin's 'inaction' on FOI bill

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines - Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II on Monday defended the Aquino administration from criticisms that it has failed to deliver on its promise to enact a Freedom of Information (FOI) law within its term.

Roxas said unresolved issues have stalled the passage of the measure, which aims to provide the public access to documents about government projects.

He said one such issue is the inclusion of the controversial “right of reply” provision in some versions of the FOI. 

Under the provision, the space or air time allotted to the response of accused parties should be equal to that of the story about the allegation. Media groups are opposed to the provision, believing it will erode press freedom and editorial judgment.

“I know for example that there are members of legislature who want a counterpart right to reply and other amendments that are not acceptable. These are part of the discussions at the floor or committee level,” Roxas said during a roundtable discussion at the News 5 headquarters in Mandaluyong.

Roxas went on to claim that the president was not pushing for the FOI because he was considering the media’s opposition to the right to reply. 

“The point is here is the president not pushing a piece of legislation to take into your (media) consideration your view against right of reply. If the president wanted it passed to please you, this will pass but there will be a right to reply,” the LP presidential bet said. 

Roxas’s comment drew adverse reactions from News 5 executives and hosts who questioned why he was linking the FOI to the media’s position on the right to reply. 

The administration’s presidential candidate then urged the broadcast journalists not to put words in his mouth. 

“Hold on. Don’t put words in my mouth. What I’m saying is there are legitimate issues for why this thing has not been passed,” Roxas said. 

He said he is supportive of the FOI and that he would continue to promote transparency and good governance if he becomes president. 

“I am for FOI. If it is not passed by this Congress, I will continue to be in favor of it and support it. There’s nothing like sunshine to kill germs. For me, information is like sunshine,” Roxas said. 

Roxas insisted that it is not fair to describe the FOI as a “failed promise” of the Aquino administration’s straight path policy.

“For a judgment to be made that it is a failed promise because there are real issues being discussed I don’t think it’s fair,” Roxas said.

When asked why he should be given the benefit of the doubt that he will push for the FOI’s passage considering that President Aquino had six years to do it, Roxas replied: “Six years is not the question of term of presidency. The issues are dynamic and we are for transparency. I think consistently across the board, we have pushed for transparency and good governance.”

“This is a government that placed line item for the budget so that you the media and citizen can know where the budget is spent. I think that is a measure of effort of transparency even if this particular piece of legislation is still being debated,” he added. 

Critics have accused the Aquino administration of not doing enough to push for the passage of the FOI, one of its campaign promises in 2010. They said Aquino could have rallied allies in Congress to pass the FOI the way he did during the deliberation of controversial measures like the sin tax and reproductive health laws. 

Critics also pointed out that the administration’s failure to pass FOI is inconsistent with its aim to curb corruption and to promote greater transparency in government.

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