117 solons unite for FOI bill after more than a year of deferred hearings
After more than a year of deferred committee hearings, 117 House members united on Monday to call for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.
The lawmakers signed a full-page newspaper advertisement to “heed the people’s clamor” and “offer (their) commitment” to pass the FOI bill before the end of the 15th Congress.
“It is the obligation of Congress, with concurrence by the President, to enact an FOI law that will institutionalize transparency as the mandatory norm rather than a mere discretion for elective and appointive officials,” the advertisement read.
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, principal author of the measure, said the manifesto was signed to send a message to the House leadership that there is already enough support for the FOI bill among lawmakers.
“We will inform the House Speaker of the number of congressmen who signed. The Speaker can order immediately for hearings to proceed. Sayang ang one week,” Tañada said at a press briefing Monday.
“With 117 members, I think the Speaker will be convinced to call for a hearing of the House committee on public information,” he added.
The FOI bill, which seeks to lift the shroud of secrecy over government transactions and data, has been pending before House committee on public information since February last year.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, the panel’s chairperson, decided last week to further defer the committee hearings despite his earlier pronouncements that he will convene the panel on August 7.
Pacquiao signed, House leaders did not
Pacquiao signed, House leaders did not
The fourteen principal authors of the FOI bill led their 113 other colleagues in signing the manifesto.
Other signatories of the paid advertisement include Deputy Speakers Maria Isabelle Climaco, Raul Daza, Arnulfo Fuentebella and Jesus Crispin Remulla. Former world boxing champ and Saranggani Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao also signed the manifesto.
Two of the lower chamber’s top officials—House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II—did not sign the advertisement expressing support for the FOI bill.
Prominent personalities during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, such as Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. and Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, also failed to sign the manifesto.
Evardone also did not affix his signature to the paid advertisement. The House panel chair said he was not aware of any such move to gather support for the FOI bill.
“Hindi ko alam na may ganito… I would like to put it on record that I’m not against the FOI. In fact, I am fully behind the spirit and intent of the FOI bill. It’s just that there are issues and concerns that need to be resolved,” Evardone said in a text message.
Advocates of the FOI bill, however, refused to accept Evardone’s explanation why the measure has been pending in his committee for more than a year now.
Vincent Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, even branded Evardone’s statements as “palusot.”
“Dinidribble na lang niya ‘yung FOI bill. ‘Yung mga sinasabi niya ay puro palusot lamang. Sinasabi niyang kailangang ireconcile ang 15 versions but all of these versions are very similar,” he said.
The “Right to Know, Right Now!” coalition—a group of media organizations and civil society groups pushing for the FOI bill’s passage—meanwhile called Evardone “the first and foremost stumbling block” to the measure’s approval.
“(Evardone) should expectedly be the first and foremost advocate of the FOI bill, but by his inertia and inaction, he is acting quite the contrary,” the group said in a statement.
Evardone, for his part, said the FOI advocates should just wait for the House leadership to call for a caucus on the bill to fast track the passage of the measure.
“I think the accusation that I’m trying to kill the FOI is baseless and misplaced… Once the coalition partners decide on the final version of the bill, the process will be more smooth and speedy,” he said. — RSJ, GMA News
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