Philippines House Nearing Debate on FOI Legislation

30 November 2012

With the Philippines House poised to debate a freedom of information bill soon, its supporters are expected to propose an alternative to the controversial right-to-reply provision.

A long debate is expected in the 285-member House of Representatives, according to Senior Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin, quoted in Sunstar.

Still to come is a from House committee on public information chairman Ben Evardone on the bill the committee approved 17-3 on Nov. 27. (See previous report.)

The FOI bill faces a variety of hurdles, including a short time frame and a busy House agenda.

Another complication is posed by calls for a “right-to-reply” that would required the media to publish or air responses from persons aggrieved by news reports based on information obtained through a FOI law.

Supporters of the FOI bill believe they have the votes to pass the bill and defeat a right-to-reply amendment, but backers of the right-to-reply provision have been adamant. Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said he and his fellow opposition lawmakers will not support the FOI bill unless a right-of-reply provision is added.
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, a principal author of the FOI bill, is looking for a compromise, according to a report in GMA Network, that would counteract “misuse” of information obtained through the proposed legislation.

“I studied the Senate version, and then I came up with a draft that will place some kind of safeguard against misuse of information. I consulted it with other FOI advocates, and they agreed to my draft,” Tañada said in a phone interview with GMA. He said the provision punishing misuse of information may be introduced at the plenary as a committee amendment.

Another report quoted Tañada as saying about the chances of the right-of-reply provision, “I believe it will be a close vote. It may go either way.”

Committee Chairman Evardone, who had delayed action on the bill for months, is now saying his goal is to get the bill done by the Christmas break, in time for a bicameral conference committee to resolve the now slight difference between the House bill and the Senate version, passed in June.

“When we resume session in January, it should be ready for ratification,” he said, according to an article in the Inquirer.

Evardone said he will introduce a provision to keep a requesting party from using a piece of information to “destroy, attack or malign” another person, the Inquirer reported. “This amendment would be contentious because there would be penal sanctions,” he said. “But I hope it would be accepted by the body.”

President Benigno Aquino III said earlier month that the media should not be afraid of the right-of-reply concept, but his aides later clarified that his did not back it as part of the FOI bill, according to GMA Network’s account.

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