A DAY LATE. President Benigno Aquino III does not mention the Freedom of Information bill in his final State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2015, but does so, a day later, in his budget message to Congress. Photo by Benhur Arcayan/Malacañang Photo Bureau
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It might have come a little too late for some, but President Benigno Aquino III did it, anyway.
A day after his observed "silence" on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in his final State of the Nation Address, Aquino on Tuesday, July 28, urged Congress to pass the controversial measure.
In his 2016 budget message, Aquino highlighted his administration’s efforts to combat corruption and promote transparency, saying these reforms have “dramatically improved our standing in global benchmarks of budget transparency.”
With this, Aquino urged Congress to pass the FOI bill “to ensure the permanency of transparency policies.”
As Aquino delivered his last SONA on Monday, many waited for him to mention the FOI bill – one of his campaign promises in 2010.
Palace spokesmen had earlier said that the President wants the FOI bill passed during his watch.
The bill, however, continues to languish in Congress 5 years into his presidency.
Asked why there was no mention of the FOI bill in the SONA, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in a news briefing on Tuesday that the FOI bill is among the priority measures submitted by the Executive to Congress leaders.
He added that even as lawmakers deliberate on the measure, the Aquino administration had already pursued transparency measures including public access to information about the national budget in government portals.
Coloma said while the FOI bill was not mentioned in the SONA, "what is more important is concrete action."
"We hope the people would understand that the President has always supported the guiding principle [of the FOI bill]," he said in Filipino.
Asked if Aquino would push for the FOI bills' passage just as he had urged lawmakers to support the Sin Tax Reform and Reproductive Health laws, Coloma said the President respects Congress as a co-equal branch of government, which has the responsibility and authority to create laws.
He also insisted that the President did not use his power to influence the passage of his priority measures.
Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, an FOI advocate, welcomed Aquino's push for the measure and remained hopeful that the measure would be passed before Aquino steps down.
Robredo also called on her colleagues to support the measure, which has been pending in Congress since the 8th Congress.
In a statement, Robredo thanked the President and said she is "hopeful that this measure will be passed before the end of the 16th Congress."
"An FOI law will ensure that the Philippines will have an accountable and transparent government years after our terms have expired," Robredo said. – Rappler.com