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PNoy bats for BBL, anti-dynasty law in last SONA; still mum on FOI

(Updated 10:40 p.m.) An end to political dynasties, a perfected peace deal in Mindanao, but nothing on freedom of information. This was the legislative agenda outlined by Pres. Benigno Aquino III in his final state address on Monday.

Detracting from his previous stand on the issue, Pres. Benigno Aquino III gave the go signal to members of Congress to enact a law prohibiting political dynasties.

"Bakit nga naman tayo gagawa ng batas para pigilang maglingkod ang gustong maglingkod? Pero napapa-isip po ako, may mali din sa pagbibigay ng pagkakaton na habangbuhay na magpakasasa sa kapangyarihan ang isang tiwaling pamilya o indibidwal," Aquino said in his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

"Hindi tayo makakasiguro kung malinis ang intensyon ng mga susunod o kung nanaisin lang nila na habangbuhay na maghari-harian para sa pansariling interes, panahon na para ipasa ang isang anti-dynasty law," he added.

Aquino also used his final SONA to encourage Congress to pass the controversial draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which embodies the peace deal signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The President told BBL critics, some of whom were present in the audience during his speech, not to stand in the way of change.
“Sa mga tutol sa batas na ito: Palagay ko, obligasyon ninyong magmungkahi ng mas magandang solusyon. Kung wala kayong alternatibo, ginagarantiya lang ninyong hindi maaabot ang pagbabago,” Aquino said.
“Ilang buhay pa ang kailangang ibuwis para magising ang lahat sa obligasyong baguhin ang sirang status quo sa Muslim Mindanao?” he added.

But just like in previous years, President Aquino was again silent on the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which seeks to promote transparency in government transactions and data, in his valedictory address before Congress members.

U-turn on dynasties

Aquino's pronouncement on political dynasties mark a shift in his position. Just last year, Aquino said that while he is in favor of a law that will prevent certain political families from wielding too much power, he expressed concern that such an anti-dynasty law will deprive his fellow politicians of some rights.
He added then that it was not a priority bill of the Aquino administration.

While Aquino didn't mention a specific political family in his speech, Vice President Jejomar Binay and his children are among those who have expressed opposition to the anti-dynasty bill.

Binay has repeatedly indicated that he was against the constitutional provision against political dynasties and any proposed enabling law. Aside from the Vice President, there are three other Binays now holding elective positions: his children Senator Nancy, Makati Mayor Junjun and Makati Representative Abigail.
Rep. Binay said that she did not feel alluded to when the President made mention of political families holding onto power.
"Hindi. Kami ba yun? Hindi...Mali yung interpretasyon na sinasabi niyo na pamilya namin 'yung tinitira sa anti-dynasty kasi hindi lang naman yung pamilya namin ang mga politiko," she said.
"Hindi importante 'yung pasaring, hindi importante yung may in-endorso. Hindi importante 'yung tinitira kami or ina-allude to our family. That's not improtant. What's important is, do the people feel — 'yung mga boss — nararamdaman ba nila yung pag-unlad ng bayan?" she added.

Unpopular BBL
The BBL, which seeks to create a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, has faced public skepticism after the deadly Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation. A firefight involving MILF members, police commandos, and private armed groups ensued during the anti-terror mission, leaving over 60 people killed.
The bill is already undergoing plenary debates at the House, but a Senate ad hoc committee has yet to pass the measure. 

At the start of the third and final regular session of the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. made a renewed call for its passage,  saying it is imperative upon Congress to address the long-standing grievances of the Bangsamoro people "by empowering them to fully provide for their self-expression and development."
However, Belmonte said it is also important that the Bangsamoro bill be crafted with a "clear and decisive legislative language to accommodate and empower" not just the Muslim majority in the envisioned Bangsamoro region, but also other groups residing and working in the area.

Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon said the upper chamber will continue to promote lasting peace and sustainable development in Mindanao through a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is consistent with the 1987 Constitution.

FOI disappointment
Meanwhile, Aquino's continued silence about an FOI law drew disappointment from both allies and opponents.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III, one of the primary proponents of the FOI bill in Congress, said he was shocked that Aquino made no mention of the landmark measure in his final address to the two houses of Congress.
“Akala ko babanggitin na eh, pero hopefully, even without the President’s endorsement, we can still pass it kasi sinabi naman ni Speaker (Feliciano Belmonte Jr.) na ipapasa ‘yun before 16th Congress ends,” he said.

Senator Grace Poe said he would have wanted the President to push for the FOI bill.
"Para sa akin, iyong mga pagbabago at reporma laban sa korupsyon na naumpisahan na niya ay mas mapapangalagaan natin kung meron tayong Freedom of Information dahil  magkakaroon ng armas ang ating mga kababayan na mabusisi ang ginagawa ng gobyerno. In short, transparency and accountability," she said when sought for comment.
Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito said he wanted to commend the President in the reforms he initiated particularly in the thrust of good governance and treading the straight path.
He also thought the President should have mentioned FOI "which, I think, would have cemented his reform agenda."
"Malaking instrumento sana ang FOI kung nabanggit at tinulak niya," he told GMA News Online.

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) president and Navotas City Rep. Toby Tiangco said he expected Aquino to mention the FOI law in his final SONA.
“Sa mga priority measures, sana na-mention ang FOI dahil may panahon pa sana [para dito],” he said.
Last year, Malacañang said Aquino, who ran on a platform of government transparency, no longer mentioned the FOI bill in his SONA because he already committed to pass the measure before his term ends in 2016.
The President made this commitment during a forum with business leaders in July last year, although he remained non-committal about certifying the FOI bill as urgent at the time.
Last week, Congress leaders agreed to include the FOI bill in their list of priority measures. The measure has already been passed by the Senate, but remains at the committee level in the House of Representatives.
Other measures

In his final SONA, Aquino also pushed for the passage of Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives Bill and the Unified Uniformed Personnel Pension Reform Bill.
He also called for the timely passage of the proposed P3.002-trillion 2016 national budget, which will be submitted by the executive to Congress for scrutiny this week. — with Xianne Arcangel and Amita Legaspi/NB/RSJ/JJ/JST, GMA News