May 30, 2016

How Leni Robredo and Malacañan crippled Freedom of Information

In less than 40 days, Rodrigo Duterte will become the 16th president of this republic. The road to Malacañan was steep, and his words are largely to blame for it. His honesty about my many flaws and his no-holds-barred rhetoric is seen by some as refreshing, by most as polarizing, if not political suicide. Duterte is a womanizer, a serial cusser, and an iron-fisted ruler. Despite all that (or maybe because of it?), he won the presidential race by landslide.

Two in every five Filipino voters chose Duterte with the full knowledge of what they are getting themselves into. Filipinos have a pretty clear idea of Duterte’s dark side. Filipinos know – and agree with the idea – that their quest for meaningful change will be fraught with potentially major kinks along the way.

But enough of President Duterte, it’s time to talk about Vice-president Leni Robredo.

Vice-president Leni Robredo

People know advocate lawyer Leni Robredo for her down-to-earth, soft-spoken, and motherly persona [Rap]. In light of her VP rival Bongbong Marcos’ seemingly insurmountable lead in March and April, her image of integrity and honesty, and genuine concern for the downtrodden provides a suitable weapon against a looming revival of the dictatorial Marcos Political Dynasty.

More than just an antidote for the Marcoses, a VP Leni is also seen as a counterweight for the brash PDiggy. After all, we are all too familiar with Duterte’s audacious personality and Leni’s ultra-wholesome image. We’ve been reminded about both in every single minute of the past several months.

But is Leni as admirable as we think she is? That is something for the reader to judge. But then, unless she’s the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, she has to have dark side, right?

We already know what’s wrong about Duterte, and it’s time to learn the not-so-right about Robredo. Why? Because you also have to know what you have gotten yourself into.

Madamme Leni Robredo is an advocate of full disclosure, so let ThinkingPinoy help her fully disclose her deeds [Leni].

Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo

Leni filed several important bills during her congressional stint[Leni]:

  1. The National Food Security Bill of 2015, which creates a national feeding program for children aged one to 13 years [Star].
  2. Anti-discrimination Bill of 2013 [HB 3432], act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, language, disability, and HIV status.
  3. People’s Participation in Budget Deliberation Bill, which essentially turns Mar Roxas’ Bottom-up budgeting into law [BicolMail].
  4. People Empowerment Bill of 2014, which create a “People’s Council” in every city and municipality, involving citizens in policy-making [Rap].
  5. Full Disclosure Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill, more on this later. 

None of these bills became law. Regardless, the history of the fifth bullet – the Full Disclosure Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill – is very interesting, especially since Malacañan is reportedly shredding documents just a few weeks before PNoy steps down [Rap].

Leni's Full Disclosure and Freedom of Information

Leni is widely credited for advocating the Freedom of Information Bill in the Lower House.

She was credited for filing Full Disclosure Bill (HB 19) and the Freedom of Information Bill (HB 3237), which are two of the twenty-six (26) Freedom of Information bills filed by various congressmen in the 16th Congress [Gov]. These actions are one of pillars of her campaign, as they reinforce her reputation as an advocate of government accountability.

A closer look, however, shows a different story.

Leni’s six-page Full Disclosure Bill bill filed in July 2013 [HB 19] was a very straightforward piece of legislation. If enacted, HB 19 would have forced the entire government to disclose everything about its finances. Period. It was a short, simple, and brilliant FOI bill.

The problem, however, is the “was”, “was” because Malacañan opposed it. Malacañan wanted to water down HB 19. Leni did not fight for that brilliant and powerful HB 19, tumiklop agad si Leni, she couldn’t stand the heat.

Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm [PS]. Yes, a sailor’s mettle is tested when the sea is rough. So what did Leni do exactly?

Leni herself watered down FOI

After prodding from the Liberal Party-led Malacañan, Leni filed a revised FOI bill [HB 3237] on October 2013, a mere two months after she filed HB 19. The new bill, while still about Freedom of Information, is but a toothless shadow of its predecessor.

The 15-page HB 3237, or the revised Robredo FOI bill, included a two-page section entitled “Exceptions”, is what made her new FOI bill lose its teeth. Leni’s HB 3237, while including the wording of HB 19, includes PNoy’s executive privilege as a legitimate excuse for withholding information from the public.

Leni was the sole author of HB 19. For HB 3237, however, the listed authors are Leni and Henedina Abad. Conveniently, Henedina Abad’s husband is Budget Secretary Butch Abad, the same guy who “taught Napoles how to set up foundations [GMA]”. These foundations serve as conduits for PDAF.

Both Aquino and Abad are allegedly involved in the PDAF and DAP issues.

Let me state this more clearly: HB 3237 allows PNoy, heir-apparent Mar Roxas, Butch Abad, and the rest of Malacañan, to withhold any particular piece of information on the ground of Executive Privilege, i.e. just because the President says so.

But, for a moment, let’s see what could have happened if HB 3237 actually became law.

What if HB 3237 became law?

Suppose HB 3237 – the watered-down Freedom of Information Bill – passed in 2014. Let ask the question:
How can “Section 6 – Exceptions” affect FOI?
Instead of providing another abstract explanation, let TP provide you with several examples of where FOI will be rendered useless.

The 2010 Luneta Hostage Crisis

We cannot use FOI to investigate the decision-making process that led to this bungled operation [Inq], because that falls under Section 6(b), which covers “records of… advice given and opinions expressed during decision making… invoked by the Chief Executive”. Moreover, because the victims are Hong Kong nationals, the issue also falls under Section 6(a), which covers “information that pertains to… foreign affairs.”

The 2011 DAP Controversy

We cannot use FOI to investigate DAP abuses [Inq] that involve disbursements to private entities, as it falls under Section 6(g), which covers “financial information…from a person other than the requesting party…whenever the revelation… would seriously prejudice the interests of the person.” We also cannot know which cabinet member suggested what because of Section 6(b), which covers “records of… advice given and opinions expressed during decision making… invoked by the Chief Executive”.

The 2013 Napoles Pork Barrel Scam

We cannot use FOI to investigate what happened when Napoles surrendered in Malacañan[TV5]. This would have been a relatively understandable situation if not for the fact that both PNoy and Abad themselves were accused of being involved in the PDAF Scam [GMA]. FOI cannot be used
The 2014 MRT Crash et. Al.

The crash in itself has been thoroughly investigated. However, what we have to know is the series of wrong decisions that led to this event. In particular, we need to verify Ex-MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III’s accusation that Mar Roxas ignored procurement requests for the train line when the latter was still DOTC chief [Rap]. But we cannot use FOI as this issue falls under Section 6(b), which covers “records of… advice given and opinions expressed during decision making… invoked by the Chief Executive”.

The 2015 Mamasapano Massacre

Mamasapano involved SAF44 and executive decision-making. We cannot use FOI to investigate that bungled operation [Star], because that falls under Section 6(a), which covers information that “directly relates to national security or defense” and under Section 6(b), which covers “records of… advice given and opinions expressed during decision making… invoked by the Chief Executive”.

The 2016 Kidapawan Carnage

We cannot use FOI to investigate that bungled operation, because that falls under Section 6(c)(iii), which covers law enforcement information that “would deprive a person of a right to fair trial.” Because of the NPA angle [TP: Mar’s Speechwriter], this issue also falls under Section 6(a), which covers information that “directly relates to national security or defense”.

Thinking Pinoy has shown in a previous article that the Kidapawan Carnage was the culmination of several month’s worth of national government incompetence and indecisions [TP: Communists], but we cannot use FOI to verify that because that issue falls under Section 6(b), which covers “records of… advice given and opinions expressed during decision making… invoked by the Chief Executive”.

The 2016 Beheaded Canadian Hostage

We cannot use FOI to check for criminal negligence on the government’s part because the Abu Sayyaf’s involvement [Guardian] makes this issue fall under Section 6(a), which covers information that “directly relates to national security or defense”. Moreover, since it elicited a reaction from Canadian PM Justin Trudeau [MT], the issue also falls under Section 6(a), which covers “information that pertains to… foreign affairs.”

The list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

HB 3237 basically means “Here’s an FOI Law but Malacañan is not covered.” We cannot use FOI, we cannot use FOI, we cannot use FOI, because Robredo and Abad tag-teamed to cripple the FOI bill in areas where it would have mattered most.

Reaction from the Lower House

The biggest irony? LP is following the footsteps of the same person they demonized.

“Executive Privilege” first came to the limelight after PGMA issued [EO 464]. The Liberal Party painted ex-PGMA as corruption personified, yet it doesn’t want to provide the same kind transparency that it demanded from Ate Glo.

And yes, Leni has been a part of the Liberal Party since she ran for office in 2013 [Rap].

Leni’s HB 3237 was combined with other FOI bills in the lower house to form a consolidated bill. The core of the consolidated bill, however, is HB 3237. This revised FOI bill drew major flak from Robredo’s congressional peers.

Because of the section on exceptions that Robredo and Abad inserted, the Makabayan bloc of party-list representative withdrew their support for the bill [ABSCBN].

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, one of the co-sponsors who withdrew support for HB 3237, said, “Anong klaseng information maku(ku)ha ng media (sa bill na ‘yan?)? That's why nilalaban namin, para (kasi) tayong bumalik sa dating administrasyon(g PGMA)… I hope hindi papasa ito [TV5].”

(What kind of information will the media get from that bill? That’s why we are fighting against it. It’s as if we’ve gone back to Arroyo administration. I hope that bill will not get passed.)

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon lamented the committee’s approval of the bill. Ridon said the the bill was “full of restrictions [GMA].”

Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus expressed dissatisfaction over the new bill when she tweeted,” Gabriela says NO to watered-down Palace-inspired #FOIBill.” [de Jesus 2014]
Leni lauds Malacañan

Adverse reactions for the Makabayan Bloc notwithstanding, Robredo released a 2014 statement regarding the revised FOI bill.

“I thank the President for including FOI as one of this administration's urgently needed bills. I am hopeful that this measure will be passed before the end of the 16th Congress,” Robredo said.

This is not true because Robredo herself even wanted to ask PNoy to certify the FOI bill as urgent in as late as January 2016 [Inq].

“I also call on my fellow legislators to continue supporting and pushing for the FOI bill which has been pending in Congress since the 8th Congress... An FOI law will ensure that the Philippines will have an accountable and transparent government years after our terms have expired,” Robredo said.

Yes, an FOI law will ensure government transparency and accountability, if it was based on HB 19.

But the same FOI law that Robredo was referring to was based on HB 3237. With coaching from Abad, Leni Robredo watered it down to exculpate the Liberal Party-led Executive Department from this requirement.

Patay-malisya lang si Leni. Natakot sa Malacañan, pero hindi natakot sa taumbayan.

Will a VP Leni still be subservient to the Liberal Party? If her not wearing yellow in today's proclamation means something, then there may still be hope.

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