Philippines Coalition Urges House to Work on FOI Bill

13 May 2015

The Right to Know, Right Know! Coalition in the Philippines is urging the House of Representatives to “work with a little more speed and focus” on long-pending freedom of information bill.

The FOI bill “is on the cusp of passage,” observed the Coalition in a May 12 statement tempered with caution.

“But while the FOI law is well positioned for passage, it still teeters between birth and death, should the leaders and members of the House fail in their task,” the statement says.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte  Jr. on May 15  said the bill will pass. “Things are moving. I am very confident it (FOI)  will see the light of day in this Congress,” Belmonte told reporters.

The Coalition listed “a few good things” that “must happen for the FOI bill to become a fulfilled promise and solid legacy of the Aquino administration.” These are:

  • The House Committee’s consolidated version of the bill must be sponsored in plenary, and interpellation and debate substantially started between now and June 11, when the second regular session adjourns sine die.
  • The period of interpellation is done, the bill is approved on second reading, amendments are finished, and the FOI bill is approved on third reading in the House between July 27, 2015 (when Congress starts its third regular session) and November 2015.
  • The bicameral conference committee of the Senate and House has finalized a reconciled bill and its report is ratified in both chambers by December 2015.
  • The Enrolled People’s FOI Bill must have been presented to the President for approval by January 2016.
  • President Aquino signs the enrolled bill into law in February 2016, just in time for EDSA’s 30th anniversary.

FOIA Tracker Announced

The Coalition said it will put up an online Congress Action on FOI Tracker (http://i-foi.org) that will provide the public with timely and regular updates on the status of the FOI Bill. The FOI Tracker will also provide a periodic assessment of the lawmakers’ action on the passage of the bill, based on the substantive quality and integrity of their work, according to the Coalition’s timetable.

The Coalition said it takes exception to assertions by the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers that the FOI bill that the House Committee on Public Information has approved with certain exceptions is “a greatly watered-down and weakened version.”

The Coalition said the Makabayan bloc’s position paper “appears to be premised in part on their FOI bill, which in our humble view provides an unreasonable benchmark on exceptions.” In its House Bill No. 347, the Makabayan bloc “advocates a near absolute right to information, and does not admit reasonable exceptions based on legitimate competing interests and rights,” the Coalition said.

The Coalition said it agrees with the assessment of various authors of the bill that the consolidated bill approved by the House Committee on Public Information “is a genuine and strong FOI bill that fully protects the people’s right to information while carefully balancing it with legitimate interests of individuals, the state and the bureaucracy.”

However, the Coalition said it will seek the amendment of a criminal provision in the Senate bill, if and when it reaches the bicameral conference stage.

“Section 22 (e) of the Senate version makes criminally liable ‘any individual who divulged or released information covered under Section 7 of this Act.’ We will seek the deletion of this paragraph,” the Coalition said, adding that, “this act is already penalized under existing law, specifically by Article 229 of the Revised Penal Code.”

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