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Right-of-reply clause in FOI bill very much alive, says lawmaker

Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – The right-of-reply provision that threatened to kill the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill at the committee level is anything but dead.

Representative Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, on Thursday said the contentious provision could still be introduced by any member of the chamber during the period of amendments in the plenary debates.

“It’s not yet dead unless it is voted down during the period of amendments,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview. “It was virtually rejected (at the committee level) but anybody can still introduce that (in plenary).”

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Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada III, a chief proponent of the FOI measure, acknowledged the possibility, saying “anything can be introduced in the period of amendments during plenary discussion.”

Asked about the chances of the right-of-reply provision not surviving plenary, he said: “I believe it will be a close vote. It may go either way.”

Evardone said he was still preparing the committee report and sponsorship speech on the FOI bill. He said his target was to have it sponsored on the floor, complete the period of amendments, and have it passed on third reading—all before the Christmas break.

“That’s my goal so that during the Christmas break, we can have the bicam (bicameral conference committee). When we resume session in January, it should be ready for ratification,” he said.

Evardone said he would introduce a key provision that would provide a safeguard on information to be released to the public under the FOI measure. He said it would keep a requesting party from using a piece of information to “destroy, attack or malign” another person.

“This amendment would be contentious because there would be penal sanctions,” he said. “But I hope it would be accepted by the body.”

The FOI bill finally hurdled the committee level at the House of Representatives last Tuesday following passionate exchanges among congressmen on whether to include a right-of-reply provision.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño argued that the provision had no place in the FOI bill.

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“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,” he had said.

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TAGS: Congress, FOI, Legislation
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