Evardone Sets Another Hurdle for Philippines FOI Legislation

3 December 2012

In a move called “unneccesary” and ”disturbing” by fellow legislators, Rep. Ben Evardone has said a procedural requirement means his Committee on Public Information must meet again on the freedom of information bill.

He set Dec. 11 as the day for members to sign the committee report on the bill approved Nov. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) Supporters of the bill say Evardone has slowed approval of the bill, imperiling its passage in this session of Congress.

Evardone said Section 39 of the House Rules requires that “committee reports… shall be considered in formal meetings and approved by a majority of members present, there being a quorum.”

Rep. Walden Bello, an author of the FOI bill, told GMA Network that the additional hearing being called by Evardone is “superfluous.”

“This is just a technicality being highlighted as an essential point. As I understand it, once the committee approves the substitute bill, the committee members just need to sign the committee report,” Bello told GMA Network.

Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, “met the development with dismay, saying that another hearing was unnecessary and would just further delay proceedings,” reported the Daily Inquirer.

Evardone said he had asked the rules committee to schedule his sponsorship speech and the debates on the FOI bill on Dec. 12, the Daily Inquirer said.

“He said his initial plan was to circulate the FOI report among the public information committee members for their signatures, and submit it to the plenary once the signatures were complete. But he said he received reports that this might be questioned,” according to the Daily Inquirer.

Advocates See Aquino Help

Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, urged President Benigno Aquino III to certify it as urgent.

“Given that time is running out in the 15th Congress, we appeal to the Senate and House leadership, as well as to the Executive, to accord its passage the urgency it deserves,” said the Right To Know, Right Now! Coalition in a statement Dec. 2.

“On the part of the Executive, President Aquino can certify to the necessity of its immediate enactment, as he did with the sin tax bill. This will place the FOI bill on par with the highest priority measures of Congress, and save it the delay from the interval of days needed in passing bills on second and third readings,” the group said.

Congress will take its Christmas break in 3 weeks and with the election approaching very limited time is available in January. With the campaign period coming up, attendance is expected to be a bigger problem when session resumes next year.

“We appeal to the proponents of the Right of Reply to allow the passage of the FOI. We urge them to pursue their Right of Reply advocacy independent of the FOI bill’s passage. Constitutional and public policy issues remain unresolved around the Right of Reply, which should be fully deliberated in the separate measures also filed with Rep. Evardone’s committee, with all the stakeholders consulted extensively,” the Right To Know, Right Now! Coalition said.

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