Freedom from what?

Even Rep. Ben Evardone, the new chair of the House of Representatives committee on information, could hardly promise  anything on the chances of the Freedom of Information bill getting congressional approval.

In fact, he expressed concern that some of  his colleagues might just “park” the FOI bill, which has been refilled with several versions. I’m not really literate on the political language in the House, but I guess that would mean that either they will shelve it, or simply ignore the legislative  measure.

President Aquino himself has not really certified it as a priority bill, if not urgent, for congressional action.

But Rep. Erin Tanada was already able to push the bill for deliberation by the bicameral conference committee only to be bypassed  by the Lower House at the eleventh hour in the previous Congress.

There was simply no reason why they have to sit down on it, when Freedom of Information was already enshrined in the so-called Freedom Constitution, which was ratified during the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino.

Talking of Rep. Evardone, I would still believe that  as a former journalist, he has realized that the FOI is not just be for the benefit of fellow newsmen  to be able to snoop into government records to scrutinize our public officials.

The FOI, hopefully would  help reduce corruption in government because it  mandates that all government agencies upload their contracts or transactions on the web. In the previous regime, we have seen how  the whistle-blowers have been stifled with the documents that were denied to the public.

Evardone was quite apologetic. He said that as chairman, he would  still try work on the passage of the bill, which obviously needed compromising to make it palatable to conservative lawmakers.

This is really disheartening. So when  I told this to one old media colleague, he fumed. “Tingnan mo talaga itong mga congressman natin, ‘pag ‘freedom’ ang pinag-uusapan kinakabahan. Bakit kaya?” he said.

Well, your guess is as good as mine. Actually Evardone’s committee started public hearings yesterday afternoon.

Tanada, who is now the deputy speaker, said that  the FOI even without the President certifying it as urgent should pass the bill to prove that lawmakers are serious about transparency in government.

“There is nothing in the rulebook which says that Congress can act on bills that the President had officially backed. A request from the President is not a requisite for congressional action on a proposed legislation.”

The president last week caught the ire of the Supreme Court which rejected his appeal to open to the media the  hearing on the case of the Ampatuans, who are being tried for the massacred of 58 people a year ago.

That is already an indication that Mr. Aquino wants genuine transparency in government.

“I don’t think he (the President) is averse or allergic to the bill,” according to Tanada, who incidentally is also the ruling Liberal Party spokesman. “It could be that he has  so many things in mind, and far greater problems to attend to.”

Tanada said that to know the administration’s official position on the FOI bill, Malacañang’s legal staff should start  canvassing the Cabinet members concerned and see how the Department of Justice, the Department of  National Defense and other department s view the measure.

“That’s a far better tack than cold silence, which can be misread as apathy towards this  bill,” he said. Still, we just can’t wait for  the new powers-that-be to start scrutinizing this bill, when all the while during the campaign, they were hyping on the need to end corruption in the bureaucracy.

The remnants of the old regime in Congress have already jumped ship to the Aquino camp. They should now  subscribe to the visions of the President to weed out  corruption in the bureaucracy, and not just ride on with the President’s popularity, and get the perks because they were favored for being identified with the administration.

As Tanada put  it, “Sana po magpakatutoo na tayo. Dito natin makikita ang tunay na diwa  ng demokrasya.”
Joel Paredes

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