Passage of FOIA Law in Philippines Imperiled

28 May 2010

The seemingly excellent prospects for passage of a Freedom of Information Act in the Philippines are being seriously threatened as the Congress tries to sort out the election results.

Speaker of the House Prospero Nograles is delaying a final vote on the legislation, which he coauthored, while congressional attention is diverted by the task of certifying the election outcome.

Supporters are still hoping a vote can be squeezed in before adjournment, although one newspaper has said the bill is “as good as dead” in this Congress.

A joint (Senate and House) committee is now engaged in canvassing the votes for the president and vice president. When the joint committee will finish is uncertain, but the target is the second week of June, after the target adjournment date of June 4. Nograles so far has ruled out working on other legislative business while the canvassing continues.

FOIA bill advocates are working with allies in the House to force a consideration of the bicameral committee report on the bill at the first opportunity.

In an interview on ANC’s “Media in Focus” May 25, Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada said it is still possible for the House of Representatives to ratify the FOI bill before the end of the 14th Congress.

“There’s still a window. We will be exercising our legislative functions from May 31 to June 4. Based on our conversations with the majority floor leader and the minority floor leader, there’s a ceremony to end the legislative functions of the 14th Congress. Before we officially close the 14th congress, we can ratify this bill,” said Tañada.

If ratified, the bill only needs the signature of President Gloria Arroyo to become law.

Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, is quoted as wondering why Nograles isn’t pushing the bill he initially supported. “Why don’t they want to complete it? That’s the big puzzle to me. Maybe somebody out there is putting pressure on him. I hope Speaker Nograles can live with his conscience with the death of this bill because of sheer inaction. They could ratify it in two minutes.”

Tañada said if Nograles and House Majority Floor Leader Arthur Defensor put the bill on the agenda, lawmakers will immediately vote to ratify it because 180 of them co-authored it and 197 voted for it on second reading.

President-apparent Benigno Aquino III has been quoted recently as saying he supports passage of the bill.

The bill, which operationalizes the constitutional guarantee on transparency, has been under consideration for 14 years.

An account of the current campaign for the bill and a detailed pro-FOIA article, are on the website of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

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