Philippines FOI Bill Dies; House, Aquino Blamed

4 February 2016

Its demise was predicted many months ago, but the last rites for the freedom of information bill in this session of the Philippines Congress have now been administered.

Once again, President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman is denying culpability in the nonpassage of what had been called a priority bill, reported in PhilStar.com.

The House adjourned Feb. 3, essentially ending the bill’s chances. “When the House resumes session in May, the chamber will convene itself as a national board of canvassers for the elections, thus, there would virtually be no time left for other legislative business,” explained an Inquirer article.

FOIA bills were passed by the Senate in 2014 and by a House committee early in 2015, but the House never took up the bill despite its broad support among lawmakers and repeated promises by House leaders.

Last week, Rep. Jorge Almonte, chairman of the House Committee on Public Information “strongly urged Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to calendar House Bill 5801 or the proposed People’s Freedom of Information Act for plenary debates this week,” according to the Manila Bulletin.

Belmonte in May 2015 told reporters, “I am very confident it (FOI)  will see the light of day in this Congress.”

“We’ve been trying to ask the Committee on Rules to include our FOI Committee Report for plenary consideration. We will continue to push for its inclusion in the calendar for business in the remaining session days,” Almonte said after Belmonte declared the FOI bill “dead” along with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the economic Charter change, the Bulletin’s Charissa Luci reported.

Almonte “noted that many lawmakers, including some from the House minority bloc rallied behind the passage of the pro-transparency measure,” the Bulletin said.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, one of the FOI bill authors was quoted recently as saying “we will persevere.” But he observed that “it seems futile when there’s no backing of leadership.”

The civil society coalition pushing for the bill saw the writing on the wall in August of 2015 when it declared “the FOI bill is dead.” (See FreedomInfo.org report.) President Aquino and Congress “are not ready to overcome their selfish fears and take the side of public interest on the issue of FOI,” according to the Coalition statement.

 

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