MANILA, Philippines—After two years, the freedom of information (FOI) bill has finally managed to get past the committee level in the House of Representatives and without the controversial right-of-reply provision.
The House committee on public information voted 17-3 (with one abstention) to pass the bill that seeks to lift the shroud of secrecy over government dealings and give the public greater access to official data.
Public information committee chair Ben Evardone, who is expected to defend the bill in the plenary, said he would send the committee report to the floor next week.
Evardone said it would then be up to the rules committee to schedule it for floor deliberations.
The FOI bill’s proponents, while jubilant, said the measure would still have to hurdle proceedings in the plenary, where it would be put to a vote on second and third reading.
Opponents of the bill complained the measure was “railroaded” because its contentious provisions, such as the right of reply and its definition of national security issues, were not sufficiently discussed.
Proponents of the right of reply provision, which demands that media give politicians and others free space to reply to criticism against them, said they could still try to include their proposal when the bill enters the period of amendments.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino defended the scrapping of the right to reply measure: “The FOI is not about the media, it’s about the right of the public to information. Information is their right. We should not meddle with what the public would do with the information … If media abuses this right, we have libel laws.”
The House has 10 session days remaining this year and will adjourn early in February next year for the midterm elections. But supporters of the measure were optimistic that there was still time to approve the measure on final reading.
The FOI bill adopts a policy of full public disclosure of government transactions, subject to certain limitations such as those relating to national security and defense.
Also among the exceptions to easy access were the ones suggested by Malacañang, including official records of opinions expressed during decision-making or policy-formulation meetings that are invoked by the President to be privileged, and data related to law enforcement and defense.