The freedom of information (FOI) bill faces more delay and is not yet headed for the House plenary for debates this week, as earlier announced.
According to public information committee chairman Rep. Ben Evardone, his panel has to meet yet again to approve its committee report on the FOI bill before the matter can be brought to the floor for deliberations. He set the next committee hearing on Dec. 11.
One of the bill’s proponents, Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, met the development with dismay, saying that another hearing was unnecessary and would just further delay proceedings.
The House of Representatives has only nine session days remaining this year, and will
adjourn on Dec. 22. The FOI bill still has to hurdle a vote on second and third reading.
But before that, it is expected to encounter opposition from those who insist on inserting a right-of-reply provision in the measure.
Evardone, who earlier said he planned to submit the committee report to the plenary this week, explained that the rules committee reminded his secretariat that under House procedures, such reports needed to be considered in a formal meeting and approved by majority of the panel members prior to going to the House body.
At the last hearing on the FOI bill, the public information committee voted 17-3 to pass the measure, and it was only after approval that the committee report could be drafted.
Evardone said he scheduled a hearing for Dec. 11 for the approval of the report, and asked the rules committee to schedule his sponsorship speech and the debates on the FOI bill on Dec. 12.
“The rules [committee] assured me that once we approve the committee report, we will start the deliberations on the floor of the bill ASAP,” Evardone told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday.
He said his initial plan was to circulate the FOI report among the public information committee members for their signatures, and submit it to the plenary once the signatures were complete. But he said he received reports that this might be questioned.
“So we will just have to go through the motion of approving it by the committee to avoid a technicality problem,” he said.
In a phone interview, Tañada said the committee report only needed the signature of the members and they could sign it this week.
There was no need for another hearing, since the practice in the House committees was to have the members sign reports before submitting them to the plenary, Tanada said. Other bills followed a similar process, he pointed out.
“That can be accomplished this week. No need to hold a committee hearing for that.”
He said he would volunteer to take charge in circulating the report among panel members for their signature, adding that the 17-3 vote for the bill was unlikely to change anyway.
Calling another hearing would further stall the bill, he said.
“This act of calling for another hearing is just another delay.”
“Kung gusto, maraming paraan, kung ayaw, maraming dahilan [If you want something, you can find many ways to do it; but if you don’t want to, you can find a lot of excuses],” he said.
FOI proponents earlier said that if the bill fails to pass on third and final reading before the year ends, it is unlikely to become law. Congress members are expected to be preoccupied with preparations for the May elections next year.
The FOI bill adopts government policy the full public disclosure of transactions involving the public interest, subject to certain limitations—such as information relating to national security and defense.
Also among the exceptions were the ones suggested by Malacañang, including “official records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation, invoked by the President to be privileged by reason of sensitivity or impairment of the presidential deliberative process; and data related to law enforcement and defense.”