Proponents of FOI Bill Hope to Speak With President

25 January 2013

Support from President Benigno Aquino appears to be the only hope for passage of a freedom of information in the Philippines, so supporters of the bill hope to meet with him during the week of Jan. 28.

With the House set to adjourn Feb. 8, leaving just six more session days, the bill’s chances have dwindled. In the week of Jan. 21, the House failed to get to debate on the measure for a variety of unrelated reasons. (See previous reports, Jan. 23 and Jan. 22.)

Analyzing the situation, Rep. Walden Bello, a supporter of the bill, wrote in a column:

Why the bill seems to be headed for a fiasco similar to what happened to it on the last day the 14th Congress, when a quorum call was made to scuttle its ratification, is traced by some of the bill’s advocates to the lack of enthusiasm for it on the part of key players in the House and Malacanang.   Others fault the majority of House members, who, they say, would much rather engage in early electoral campaigning than attend session to assure a quorum.  Whatever the reasons, the bill’s sponsors in the House are still hanging on to the Speaker’s observation that in that chamber, “things usually come together in the last three days.

Looking ahead, Bellow said:

In football, there is a phenomenon called the “Hail Mary pass,” a long, desperate pass in the last few seconds that results in a winning goal.  Will the quarterback finally unleash that pass to the many receivers waiting to score the touchdown for FOI that will be one of the crowning glories of the 15th Congress?

Observers have become increasingly caustic in their evaluations.

One columnist, Romeo Y. Lim, wrote in Malay Business Insight: “It has come to a point that porn stars have better acting skills than the clowns who keep coming out with excuses to delay the bill.”

The Inquirer reported that supporters of the bill are going to be seeking a meeting with Aquino after he gets back Jan. 29 from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. was quoted as calling the bill’s condition “terminal” and saying it would need a “major miracle” from Aquino to revive it.

“Only a major miracle such as a presidential certification can save it now,” he said, referring to a presidential prerogative to certify bills as urgent, thus removing some legislative procedural hurdles.

Rep. Ben Evardone, the chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the bill, said the bill would be unlikely to pass if it is not yet approved on second reading by next Wednesday (Jan. 30).  Critics have said he “dribbled” the bill, delaying a committee vote until late last year. It passed easily. The Senate has approved a very similar bill.

The legislation which in recent weeks has come under increasing criticism as being watered down, is basically the version advanced early in 2012 by the Aquino administration and accepted, reluctantly, by most FOI supporters.

Aquino had made passing a FOI bill a campaign promise, but his support is often described as “lukewarm” and he has resisted previous calls to certify the bill.

His administration has sought to make transparency a hallmark. The Philippines serves on the Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership, of which it was a founding member.

Budget Transparency Down, IDP Says

The Philippines has lost ground on budget transparency according to the latest report on the Independent Budget Project.

Its budget transparency score slid  to 48 points on a scale of 100, seven points less than its rating in 2010.  The score is largely based on whether a country makes public eight key documents.

The score, along with comments contesting it from a top government official, is described further in an article in The Philippines Star.

“The drop was attributed to the country’s late publication of the Organizational Performance Indicator Framework (OPIF) 2012 Book of Outputs as well the reduction in the quality of information provided in the year-end report.”

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