Philippines House Delays Timing for FOI Legislation

12 October 2012

The schedule for considering freedom of information in the Philippines House of Representatives has slipped again, prompted new fears that it will not be passed this year.

Nov. 13 has been set as the date for a House committee meeting, after earlier promises of action in mid-October disappeared.

FOI proponent Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III said Oct. 11 in a text message sent to reporters that the bill is on life support.

“Representative (Ben) Evardone placed FOI in ICU… in life support, gasping for breath,” said Tañada. He said he still hopes that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. will bring the bill up immediately after it clears the House Committee on Public Information, which Evardone heads.

Evardone was quoted as saying that the delay was caused by difficulties reserving a conference room earlier than a planned Oct. 23 meeting. Tañada responded by reserving a room for Oct. 16, but the date was then set for Nov. 13, which Belmonte called “a fixed schedule,” according to articles in the Inquirer and GMA Network.

The spokesman for the Aquino government continued to express confidence a bill would be passed, according to Philippines Star report.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said he and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad had spoken with Evardone and asked him to allow the hearing on the FOI bill to continue.

Lacierda was quoted as saying: “We don’t know yet what’s going to happen. And, again, we do not have control over the (House)… It’s budget season right now so, I think, the priority of the House is the budget, and we leave it with the House leaders to decide on the course or the schedule of the FOI bill.” 

Congress will again go on recess from Oct. 20 to Nov. 4. Session will resume on Nov. 5 to Dec. 21, followed by the Christmas break from Dec. 22 to Jan. 20. Once passed by the Hosue, the bill would need to be approved by the Senate, which has already passed its FOI bill.

FOI supporters in the Philippines are also concerend about provisions in a recently passed cybercrime law. The law “contains several provisions that diminish and restrict freedom of expression over cyberspace, prompting vigorous protest from citizens, netizens, and journalists, and no less than 11 constitutional challenges before the Supreme Court,” according to an analysis by Nepomuceno Malaluan and Malou Mangahas of the Institute for Freedom of Information.

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