House Fails to Pass FOI Law for Philippines

4 June 2010

By Toby McIntosh

The House of Representatives in the Philippines on June 4 was unable to pass a Freedom of Information Act because not enough congressmen showed up.

The failure to obtain a quorum on the last day of the congressional session appears to end the high hopes of activists, although several news accounts noted that a few last-ditch options are being discussed.

With 180 sponsors, there was no doubt that the bill enjoyed majority support in the House, but only 128 of 268 lawmakers attended the session, just shy of the 135 necessary for a quorum.

The dramatic final hours of the bill are recounted in several articles in the Philippine press and a story by Merck Maguddayao for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

The action included allegations that a quorum really was present, a failed motion to compel the arrest of missing members, and a scuffle in the gallery.

The FOI bill was the first piece of legislation taken up when the session opened, but Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo objected and called for a roll call.

Supporters of the bill criticized House Speaker Prospero Nograles for having gone “cool” on the bill he had co-authored and said that the final House effort was “moro-moro (farce).”

One last-minute call for passage of the bill also included a list of the problems the bill had encountered.

Other articles describing the bill’s final hours include one by Lira Dalangin-Fernandez for in which it was reported that Representative Neri Colmenares asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to call for a special session to have the bill ratified. But statements from the president’s spokesman expressed confidence that the bill would pass in the next session. Also being discussed is the possibility of raising the issue when Congress convenes in joint session for the proclamation of the winning president and vice president.

Another article reported that Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III “insinuated that it was suspicious how the House leadership chose not to compel the congressmen who were inside the Batasan complex but outside the session hall to enter.” Tañada said the House secretary-general said there were 142 congressmen prior to the roll call.

Since it was not passed, the bill will have to be re-filed in the 15th Congress and go through the entire legislative process again.

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