House Sponsors of FOI Bill Appeal for Aquino Support

23 January 2013

Leading sponsors of the freedom of information bill now languishing before the Philippines House have appealed to President Benigno Aquino to throw a lifeline to the bill.

Another day passed without House action Jan. 23, leaving just six session days to go before the House adjourns the current session on Feb. 8.

“Akbayan Representative Walden Bello and Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat said that while they originally felt that the measure could do without the President certifying it as urgent, the case was now different with only six session days left,” reported the Inquirer.

“Unless the President certifies the FOI as urgent, I don’t think it will be passed by then,” opposition lawmaker Orlando Fua told the Manila Standard.

Comments in recent day from an Aquino spokeswoman, however, have been decidedly noncommittal about declaring the bill urgent, which would provide procedural benefits. Such “certification” by the president would mean that the House could pass the FOI bill on second and third readings on the same day.

At the moment, getting the bill on the floor at all seems to be problematical. On Monday, the House Speaker did not put the bill on the agenda. On Tuesday, it was on the agenda, but a threatened quorum call over an unrelated matter, and the apparent lack of a quorum, caused leaders to end the day without getting to the yet undelivered introductory speeches on the FOI bill. (See previous report.)

On Wednesday, the House got embroiled in a debate on whether the U.S. Navy ought to be held liable for the damage caused by its USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef.

Looking ahead, The Inquirer reported:

But Bello remained optimistic and said that even if the fight to get the bill passed was “getting tight…we’ll still push to get Presidential certification of the bill as urgent.”

“As the Speaker says, it’s in the last three days of the session that things come together,” he said.

Presidential Spokeswoman Noncommital

Notwithstanding the fact that the House bill is the measure as drafted by the Aquino administration to fulfill a presidential campaign promise, the administration has resisted calls in recent months to speak out for its passage or provide the procedural boost of certifying it as urgent, as the president did in December for a controversial reproductive health (RH) bill and earlier for a sin tax bill.

Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, on Jan. 22 commented, “The FOI is not like the RH. In the case of the RH bill, all the issues were thoroughly discussed. But for the FOI, there are new issues that our lawmakers still want to discuss,” according to an account in the Manila Standard, which also contains a summary of the bill.

Perhaps at this point it’s not about the importance (of the bill) but whether the discussions have  fully threshed out  the issue at hand.” She also was quoted as saying the bill needs “extensive deliberation.”

She responded to criticisms of the bill from a handful of lawmakers who consider it too weak, saying the administration had even narrowed exemptions when it offered its version earlier this year.

A column critical of the bill by Federico D. Pascual Jr. was published in the Jan. 24 Philippines Star.

Most supporters of the bill, including the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, decided to accept the administration’s version despite similar misgivings.

Fua said the opposition would support the FOI bill only if it contains a provision allowing a right-of-reply provision, an expected amendment that the bill’s supporters feel can be defeated.

A similar bill passed in the Senate in May.

(For additional background see this report from December.)

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