Evardone Pledges to Meet Again on Philippines FOI Bill

16 November 2012

The Philippines’ House committee chairman who has delayed action on freedom of information legislation is promising it will be the only topic for a Nov. 27 meeting.

Rep. Ben Evardone Nov. 16 said the FOI bill “will be our only agenda” when the committee meets, according to a text message reported on by the Inquirer.

Supporters, who have declared the bill dead, doubt that there is enough time left in the session to complete action on the legislation.

Evardone adjourned a meeting Nov. 13 preventing a vote on the bill, which has majority support in the committee, according to its supporters. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

At the meeting the bill was brought up last on the agenda and Rep. Rodolfo Antonino spoke at length in favor of adding a right-to-reply provision to the legislation. Ignoring calls for a vote, Chairman Evardone adjourned the meeting, citing a House procedural rule. .

Evardone said it was “totally unfair” to accuse him of derailing the bill’s approval. “I can’t stop members of the committee and authors from discussing issues before my committee,” he wrote to the Inquirer.

“They must remember that we are a deliberative body. We are in a democracy. We are not under a dictatorship,” he said.

 FOI bill co-author Rep. Walden Bello was quoted in rebuttal, saying, “It really depends on the chair. If he wants a vote, he can do it. If he doesn’t, it won’t happen.” According to Bello, “He will only have himself to blame if there’s no vote. Committee chairs are super powerful.”

Other reporting questioned Evardone’s reason for adjourning – because a plenary session was about to start  at 4 p.m. “As it turned out, there was no plenary session as there was no quorum on the floor. The House adjourned before 5:30 p.m.,” according to another Inquirer article, by Leila B. Salaverria, which provides one of the most complete accounts of the committee meeting.

Aquino Role Questioned

Also hotly contested in the aftermath was the role of President Benigno Aquino, who has been criticized for not being an active advocate for the bill. Aquino delayed proposing his own bill until earlier this year and in many other ways has been lackluster ally, according to the bill’s supporters.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda insisted the Palace was not behind any attempt to derail the passage of the FOI measure. “We have submitted our FOI bill and we have no hand in delaying the bill,” Lacierda said Nov. 15.

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