House Meeting May Decide Fate of FOI Bill in Philippines

9 November 2012

Tuesday, Nov. 13, is looming as a potentially big day for freedom of information legislation in the Philippines.

A House committee, after much delay, is scheduled consider the bill on that day.

A leading supporter on the House said he is “optimistic” it will pass “as long as the chairman has the courage to support the passage of the bill.”  

Representative Lorenzo Tañada III may have chosen his words carefully, because the committee on public information chairman, Representative Ben Evardone, nominally a FOI supporter has delayed holding meetings on the bill.

Working against passage is the planned adjournment Dec. 22. The session will resume for only 15 working days next year from Jan. 21 to Feb. 8, after which legislative work typically grinds to a halt to give way to the campaign for the May 13, 2013, elections.

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition on Nov. 5 issued statement urging approval of the bill, cautioning that “time is running out.”

The group asked that House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. lead the House in approving the bill before it adjourns.

Senate Glitch 

Also noted in the statement is a lingering impediment to the completion of Senate action on the bill. The coalition said:

At the Senate, the progress of the FOI bill has slowed down despite the strong stated commitment to its passage by the Senate leadership and FOI champions. After Senator Gregorio Honasan II sponsored the FOI committee report before the Senate plenary last 4 June, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, a key champion of the FOI bill, has not found an opportunity to deliver his co-sponsorship speech that would pave the way for the period of interpellation on the bill.

We hope Senator Cayetano delivers his co-sponsorship speech at the soonest, and Senator Honasan shepherds the bill through interpellations and approval in plenary also before the December 22 adjournment.

Only approval of the FOI bill on second and third reading in both Houses before adjournment in December will allow it to go through bicameral conference committee in time for ratification when session resumes in January, according to the coalition’s statement.

On the more political level, the coalition pointed out that Evardone has “openly and publicly” blamed President Benigno Aquino and his party for the delay in the passage of the FOI Act.  Aquino this year has proposed his own bill, which the Senate adopted, but has not been pushed enough for its passage, advocates state.

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