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Text nuances prolong delay on freedom of info draft

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III said last week he had ordered a Palace study group to come up with the final draft of the freedom of information bill. “I will ask this committee that has been talking to all of the stakeholders if we can move faster on it,” Mr. Aquino said. He admitted the “nuances” in the draft text were making it difficult to arrive at a consensus. He said he wanted a law on freedom of information that was “livable by everybody” and balanced the concerns of the state with the citizens’ right to information. “Even in the consultations with the stakeholders, it seems they cannot come up with an agreement,” Mr. Aquino said. “Even people from the media industry tell us that if you are hardworking, you don’t need the FOI because the transparency provisions are there. But at the same time, there are some quarters who say that we trust you but what about the people who come after you?” According to a coalition of civil society and media organizations pushing the bill, Mr. Aquino’s concerns are reflected in the Palace draft bill. In a recent statement, the coalition said the draft put in place “national security” and the President’s “deliberative process” in the list of exceptions enrolled in the bicameral conference committee report of the 14th Congress. The group said the Palace study group defined the President’s “deliberative process” to cover records of minutes of advice given or opinions expressed during a decision-making or policy-formulation meeting. Once a policy has been formulated, the minutes may be disclosed unless they were made during an executive session. The Palace also expanded the concept of national security beyond national defense and foreign affairs, the coalition said. “To show the coalition’s utmost good faith in our claim of our right to information, and to move the legislative process through reasonable consensus, we are not objecting to the additional exceptions produced by Malacañang, provided balancing safeguards are also provided,” group spokesman Nepomuceno Malaluan said. “We hope that a decisive and speedy action by the Senate will break the impasse on the FOI bill.”
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