Two more senators on Tuesday sponsored the Senate’s version of the Freedom of information (FOI) bill and no questions were raised. But Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III moved to suspend consideration of the bill to await more inquiries from the lawmakers.
Senators Loren Legarda and Alan Peter Cayetano delivered their cosponsorship speeches, joining Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes and Franklin Drilon as sponsors of the measure.
Cayetano expressed optimism that it wouldn’t take long before the FOI bill is passed “because nobody is against it in the Senate.”
But Sotto said he held back asking the chamber to close the period of interpellation—a move that would have pushed Senate Bill No. 3208 closer to approval—saying “some senators” wanted more time to study the measure further.
“I would have wanted to move for the adoption and the closure of the period of interpellation but I am informed by some members of the Senate that they would wish to be given some time to go over the proposed measure,” Sotto said in the plenary.
“They will inform (the body) quickly when they are ready,” he added before moving that the Senate suspend consideration of the bill formally titled “An Act Fortifying the People’s Right of Ownership Over Information Held by the People’s Government.”
It has been months since the Senate committee on public information, chaired by Sen. Gregorio Honasan II, came up with a committee report on the FOI bill.
Best Christmas gift
“I ask all of our colleagues to help in passing this bill. This will be our best Christmas gift to our people, a freedom of information act,” Cayetano said.
Legarda said she acknowledges “that there are certain information that must be kept confidential especially that which may compromise the nation’s security, jeopardize negotiations or diplomatic relations with other nations, and intrude privacy or endanger the life and safety of an individual.”
“We have covered these exceptions, and if such may cause the denial of access to information, the agency concerned is required to make the appropriate explanation,” Legarda said in her cosponsorship.
“We have to remain faithful to the maxim that ‘a public office is a public trust.’ Honesty, transparency and accountability must always be upheld to gain back the people’s confidence and faith in the bureaucracy. Given the tremendous import of this measure in securing the trust of the Filipino people in their government, I hope that this august chamber shall pass this in the swiftest possible time,” she added.
Right of reply
Freedom of information is part of the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution. However, it needs an implementing law. For the past quarter of a century, Congress has failed to pass this implementing law.
In the House of Representatives, some representatives suggested that the people’s right to information be conditioned on a so-called right-of-reply —which would bill media for equal space should any criticism against politicians, among others, be published or aired.