By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – The two representatives of Bayan Muna party-list are asking President Benigno Aquino III to support the passage of a Freedom of Information law and begin so by ordering Congress to give priority to it.
Bayan Muna Representatives Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares said the president has been less than supportive of the FOI bill and he should redeem himself by putting his foot down on its quick passage.
Casiño said Congress “has bended back too far on the FOI bill.” He said the Committee on Public Information has delayed its deliberations and even watered down the bill to accommodate the president’s concerns, but Aquino himself has not included the proposal among his priority measures.
The two lawmakers have authored House Bill No. 133, one of several pending FOI bills.
Casiño said the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council(Ledac) continues to exclude the FOI as a priority.
“If the Ledac doesn’t include the FOI as a priority, then there really is no way that Aquino can rightfully claim that he is forging the ‘straight path’ against corruption. It will confirm the suspicion of many that transparency and accountability are only being applied to the previous administration and that the President would rather continue the practice of withholding vital information from the public,” Casino said.
Aquino taking his sweet time
As of this writing, however, it has been reported that President Aquino did not endorse the FOI bill to the Ledac.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino still needs time to study the proposal, and there is still a lot of time — the four years and nine months remaining to the Aquino administration.
Lacierda, however, said the proposal was not yet dead in the water and that Malacañang agrees with the FOI “in principle,” only there were some concerns that should first be addressed.
Release the Mayuga report
In the meantime, the Bayan Muna lawmakers said the absence of an FOI law was used by the previous administration under ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to bury from the public eye valuable information and documents.
“A very good example is the Mayuga report, which deals with electoral fraud and is imbued with tremendous national interest,” he said, referring to the documents of a body that was tasked to investigate electoral fraud.
The Mayuga Board led by former Navy Chief Rear Admiral Mateo Mayuga was tasked, in 2005, to investigate ranking officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) including generals mentioned by Commission on Elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in the Hello Garci tapes during the 2004 electoral campaign. The military fact-finding panel cleared top military officials accused of conspiring to rig the 2004 elections.
“With a genuine FOI law, this document should have been publicized a long time ago and the truth on the 2004 elections has been known. Our history should not have to endure another six years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s rule then if the Mayuga report along with it transcripts had already been released,” Casiño said.
The activist solon, however, clarified that Bayan Muna was against Malacañang’s moves to impose so many exceptions to the FOI bill that are inimical to the Filipino people’s interest.
“If this is allowed to happen, then an FOI law loses its teeth and its very purpose. The government would just use any excuse to hide knowledge or documents that the public should know,” he said.
Casiño said Malacañang should prioritize the FOI bill and release the unrevised Mayuga report as well its transcripts.
“The Filipino people have every right to know. It does not matter how many generals and officials are involved, what is paramount is for the truth to come out and justice is served,” Casiño said.
No Mayuga Report, no budget for the DND
For his part, Rep. Colmenares said Congress should not continue deliberations on the budget of the Department of National Defense (DND) until lawmakers are given a copy of the Mayuga report. He expressed shock that the Aquino administration continues to keep the report under wraps, the same way the previous administration refused to divulge the report’s contents to the public.
In an earlier hearing in Congress, Gazmin told the Committee on Appropriations during the deliberations on the defense budget that the Mayuga report was marked “top secret.”
? DND Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, in the meantime, said they could not release the report unless authorized by President Aquino.
“In the past weeks we have written requests and called on the DND to give us a copy and they said they were still studying it. I’m sure the Appropriations committee was shocked when the DND admitted that they were ordered by Pres. Aquino to study the logic, relevance and validity of the Mayuga Report because Pres. Aquino and the DND have no business changing its conclusions or its recommendations, ” Colmenares said.
The activist solon said DND secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s belated admission that the Mayuga report is classified as “secret” is also shocking because an investigation on electoral fraud is not a threat to national security.
“If this were the case, the investigations by Comelec, the Department of Justice or Congress can be preempted by withholding evidence or documents on the ground of national security. We urge Pres. Aquino to order the DND to give Congress a copy of the report to avoid suspicion that he is ordering the manipulation of the report’s conclusion and recommendations,” he said.
Colmenares insisted that Malacañang should surrender true copies of the Mayuga report to Congress including the investigation transcripts because these will reveal just exactly what took place during the investigation.
“We will hold them to their publicly made promise that they will give us a copy at least of the transcripts. If they renege on this commitment then they only misled the public and will be deemed an insult to Congress. ” said Colmenares.