House body approves consolidated FOI bill
MANILA, Philippines — The consolidated version of 15 bills on Freedom of Information was approved Monday by the House committee on public information.
Exactly17 lawmakers voted for the version crafted by the technical working group which was led by Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III, principal author of the FOI bill.
Three voted against it while a lone legislator decided to abstain from voting.
The consolidated bill was approved despite the technicalities which plagued its hearings.
Nueva Ecija Representative Rodolfo Antonino has consistently opposed efforts of proponents of the FOI Bill to have its consolidated version voted on by the members of the House public information committee. He accused Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III of railroading the passage of the new version and of deliberately excluding his right of reply provision.
“It has been mentioned that I didn’t take into consideration the bill of Rep. Antonino. I’d like to stress that the bill was never referred to the technical working group,” explained Tanada.
The deputy speaker told the panel that the mother committee never referred Antonino’s bill to the TWG. “How can the chair of the TWG take cognizance of a bill that has never been referred to the TWG?”
In the end, it was the pro-FOI solons who had the upper hand and the consolidated version of the FOI Bill was passed.
The FOI bill is now in the hands of House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Tanada told reporters in a press conference after the hearing.
He added that he will also consult with Belmonte on how the schedule for the plenary debates on the proposed measure will pan out.
This was not the “total victory that we want. That’s when it is enacted into law,” said Tanada.
He also assured opponents of the FOI bill that there was still the period of amendments at plenary. “I’m sure as the chairman would be the main sponsor of the bill, he will allow amendments to come as they please.”
“There is nothing to fear. This is the first stage of the legislative process. We go to plenary and anyone can put in their two cents’ worth,” he said.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, a co-author of the FOI Bill, said that they had “a lot of time” and was hopeful that it would be passed at the plenary level. “My only regret is that this could have been out much earlier.”
“But now that it is, we are quite happy. This is a victory for democracy as democracy depends on transparency and on making sure that the State keeps as few secrets as possible,” said the partylist lawmaker.
Reacting to Antonino’s focus on corruption and irresponsibility of the media in explaining why he wanted a right of reply provision, Tanada said “hindi ito usapin ng media. Ito ay usapin para sa Mamamayan (this not a media issue. This is a people’s issue.”
He said the information that emanates from government agencies will help the people in making the right decision – so that they could familiarize themselves with the programs and know the benefits in store for them.
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