Philippines House Committee Approves FOI Legislation

27 November 2012

A Philippines House committee Nov. 27 voted 17-3, with one abstention, to approve a long-stalled freedom of information bill.

Final passage, however, remains uncertain because of time pressures. Approval by the full House this year would require action during the 11 session days left before Congress goes on a Christmas break, and only limited time exists in January before an election break.

The committee did not add a controversial right-of-reply provision to the bill. It would have required the media to publish or air responses from persons aggrieved by news reports based on information obtained through the FOI bill.

The panel’s chairperson, Rep. Ben Evardone, described the proposed legislation as “incomplete” without a right-to-reply clause.

The Senate passed a FOI bill June 3. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)  

Right of Reply Urged

Rep. Rodolfo Antonino urged the committee to approve the right-of-reply provision, saying that giving the media “unbridled access to information” will make politicians more susceptible to “demolition jobs,” according to a GMA Network report.

“If the media were to be required to print both sides of the story, this corruption in media will be reduced to a minimum. If they [the media] want information, let us require them to use responsibly,” he said. Deputy Minority Leader Amelita Villarosa supported Antonino.

The committee meeting also featured procedural maneuvering and complaints about the way the bill was handled, as described in the Manila Standard and Rappler.com.  

Tight Deadlines Ahead

Rep. Erin Tañada, a major sponsor of the FOI bill, said after the vote, “Total victory is when the FOI bill is enacted into law.”

After the House committee delayed action on the bill Nov. 13, the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition declared the bill as “dead” in the 15th Congress. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Tañada was quoted as saying that bill is now in the hands of House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. He will also consult with Belmonte on how a schedule for plenary debates, reported the Inquirer.

Amendments can be offered during House consideration.

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