FOI bill faces ‘crawl to the finish line,’ but authors not giving up
Procedural questions block passage of FOI bill . Members of the committee on public information of the House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to vote on the Freedom of Information Bill due to procedural questions raised by some lawmakers during the hearing at the Congress in Quezon City on Tuesday. Asti Flores
Authors of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill at the House of Representatives admitted Wednesday that prospects of passing the measure are already becoming dim, but the lawmakers still expressed willingness to fight for the bill’s approval.
“It’s going to be a crawl to the finish line and I don’t think we can crawl as fast as we want, but the crusade has to be there,” Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada, the FOI bill’s primary author, said in an interview.
Tañada said he hopes the bill will finally be voted upon on November 27 — the date of the House public information committee’s next hearing.
“There’s a pending motion to vote on the bill. In the next committee hearing, that could be raised. When we go back, I’m sure that motion will be raised and hopefully, it will proceed from there,” he said.
On Tuesday, the House panel failed to vote on the FOI bill due to procedural questions raised by Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, who is pushing for the inclusion of a right-of-reply provision in the measure.
The consolidated version of the FOI bill, which seeks to lift the shroud of secrecy over government transactions and data, has been pending before the House committee since February last year.
‘Exclusive’ FOI hearing
For his part, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairperson of the House public information committee, vowed to make the FOI bill the only agenda of the panel’s hearing on November 27.
“It will be a hearing exclusively for the FOI bill. Wala nang ibang bills na itatackle, para ma-resolve na ‘yung contentious issues,” Evardone said in a separate phone interview.
The committee chairman, who has deferred hearings on the FOI bill several times in the past months, said he will invite again Palace and defense officials to the hearing to settle issues on national security and the right-of-reply provision.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño, another author of the FOI bill, said there is still a “favorable number” of members of Evardone’s committee who wants to the measure passed.
“I fear that the FOI bill is doomed, but we still continue to fight for it,” the party-list lawmaker said in a text message.
‘FOI bill is dead’
Despite the possibility of another hearing on the FOI bill this month, the “Right to Know, Right Now” coalition—a group of media practitioners pushing for the measure’s passage—said the proposed legislation is already “dead.”
“The FOI bill is dead, actually murdered on its tracks. Its butchers? The lackadaisical Evardone. The mindlessly perorating Antonino. The President and his flaccid support,” the group said in a statement.
The coalition added that the House public information committee’s failure to approve the bill on Tuesday was the “final blow” to the measure.
President Benigno Aquino III, who won on a platform for transparency for transparency in government, has endorsed the passage of the FOI bill, but has not included it in his priority measures.
During the last Congress, the measure was only waiting for the ratification of the House—the final step in Congress before the proposed legislation is forwarded to the President for signing into law—but was not approved due to lack of quorum. — RSJ, GMA News