Philippines FOI Bill Called Priority, But Time Short

31 December 2012

Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, Jr., has said that the freedom of information bill will be one of the priority bills when the Philippines House of Representatives  on Jan. 21 convenes for what will only be an nine-day session.

But Belmonte told reporters that mustering a quorum will be a challenge, according to news reports including an article in Rappler and another in the Daily Inquirer.

Congress will break in early February to permit campaigning for the May election.

The bill, essentially one authored by the Aquino administration, was voted out of committee by a lopsided affirmative , but it has not been “sponsored” on the floor, a step preliminary to voting on it. Amendments are expected to be proposed to the bill, although supports hope that alterations can be defeated. It has the endorsement of 117 of the 286 House members. The Senate has approved its version of the FOI bill. (See previous reports.)

President Benigno Aquino, who made passage of the bill a campaign pledge, thus far has indicated that he will not certify the bill as “urgent,” which would hep it clear procedural hurdles. Unless certified as urgent by the president, the measure will have to wait for 3 days before it can be taken up for 3rd reading.  Speaker Belmonte has said he was not going to ask the president to certify the measure.

“In refusing to certify the bill as urgent to Congress, the President is sending powerful signals to his cohorts to put up countless excuses to strangle the legislation on its path, eventually leading to the scaffold of the guillotine for execution,” wrote Amando Doronila in a Daily Inquirer editorial.

The FOI bill did not pass at the end of the last Congress in 2010 due to lack of quorum.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace is still monitoring the movement of the bill in the House of Representatives, according to a Rappler report.

“The FOI [bill] kasi, meron silang mga bagong pinagdedebatehan (there are new issues they are debating on) and as we have said before, we’d like to see how the debates will play out before we move further,” Valte said in an interview on government-run radio dzRB on Dec. 29.

“We’d like to see the debates move on in FOI because there are stakeholders that do raise other concerns that have not been extensively discussed before,” she added.

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