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Will Aquino use his political clout for the FOI?

By Ellen Tordesillas

3rd Sona

With a commanding popularity, hardly dented by controversies and bungling, President Aquino’s push makes a lot of difference in passing the most difficult legislations.

We have seen it in the last few weeks.

His certification of the Reproductive Health bill as urgent last week facilitated the passage of the measure which was vigorously opposed by the intimidating Catholic Church.

A few weeks ago, Congress also passed the Sin Tax Reform bill which cigarette and alcoholic drinks companies, with huge lobby money, were blocking.

Those two bills which had always suffered the fate of Mona Lisa dreamers (“They just lie there and they die there” ) now just need the signature of the President to become laws.

With the Sin Tax reform measure, the government expects to collect P40 billion in additional revenues which will be used in the improvement hospitals and health facilities nationwide, providing more health services especially in the rural areas which are also expected to result in healthier Filipinos.

Health experts say that increase in prices of cigarettes and alcoholic drinks, which is the logical effect of higher taxes, would decrease number of smokers by 27 percent.

That would also translate to healthier Filipinos. “This is bigger than the revenue we will be earning from the tax. This is our biggest win,” said Dr. Antonio Dans of the UP College of Medicine, one of the active proponents of the Sin Tax Reform measure together with Dr. Tony Leachon, consultant of the Department of Health on Noncommunicable Diseases.

When the RH measure becomes a law, more and more Filipinos would be empowered to plan their families because there would be easier access to information, materials, and opportunities.

It goes without saying that a healthy and empowered people would be great asset in the economic development of the country.

With a 78 percent approval and 80 percent trust ratings (Pulse Asia nationwide survey Nov. 23 – 29, 2012), would be expected to be a major influence in the May 2013 elections. Members of Congress, many of whom are running in the May 2013 elections, would be courting trouble antagonizing Aquino.

Now that Aquino had shown his political clout in the Sin Tax reform and RH bills, would he do the same for the Freedom of Information Bill, the first versions of which were filed six congresses ago?

In his sponsorship speech yesterday, Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” R. Tañada III, appealed to the House leadership to facilitate the enactment of the FOI bill into law.

“Before us is a measure that will institutionalize the substantive and procedural details necessary for the effective operationalization of the people’s right to information, enshrined side by side with the great fundamental guarantees to a free and democratic people in our Bill of Rights.

“Iisa po ang buod ng panukalang batas na ito. Karapatan ng ating mamamayan na malaman kung paano ginagampanan ng pamahalaan at ng mga pinuno at kawani nito ang kapangyarihang ipinagkatiwala sa kanya ng taong-bayan, at kung paano nito pinangangalagaan ang kaban ng bayan na nagmula sa pawis at pagod ng mamamayan.

“Totoo po, sinasabi sa mga desisyon ng Kataas-taasang Hukuman na ang karapatan sa impormasyon na ginagaratiyahan sa ika-pitong seksyon ng Article 3 ng ating Saligang Batas ay maaaring hingin ng mamayan kahit walang kalakip na batas ng Kongreso na magpapatupad nito. Subalit sa pang-araw araw na karanasan ng mamamayan, hindi ito sapat upang masiguro ang pagtupad nito. Hanggang saan ang saklaw ng mga impormasyong kailangang ibigay? Ano ang alituntunin sa paghingi at pagbibigay ng impormasyon? Kung ang karapatan sa impormasyon ay nilabag, ano ang kaukulang regulasyon at remedyo ng mamayan?”

Tanada said the FOI bill addresses these concerns.

He traced the history of the FOI bill: “This measure is twenty years in the making. The first FOI bills were filed as far back as the 9th Congress in 1992. While it took the FOI bill practically a generation to reach legislative maturation, those years have been a fruitful process of balancing competing norms in FOI.”

He said it is the passage of the bill would not only be “in recognition of the already very long legislative history of painstaking balancing of interests to reach the present broad consensus on its provisions, but also in keeping with our own commitment to contribute to the lasting reform of our governance institutions.”

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