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No Palace blessing, no smooth sailing for freedom of info bill

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05:29 AM December 19th, 2012

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December 19th, 2012 05:29 AM

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte ARNOLD ALMACEN

Don’t expect an express vote on the Freedom of Information bill (FOI) in the House of Representatives this December.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said the House leadership is not planning to ask President Aquino to certify the FOI bill as urgent like what it did with the reproductive health measure. He said the FOI bill would begin moving in the House in preparation for a possible second reading vote in January.

The Senate has already approved the FOI bill on third and final reading.

Belmonte, who personally supports the FOI bill, said the measure would go through the legislative mill first, as this was what happened with the reproductive health bill.

“As far as we’re concerned we’d like to see [the FOI bill] go into the process first,” he said in a press briefing.

According to him, House leaders only asked Mr. Aquino to certify the reproductive health bill as urgent after the House managed to get it through the lengthy second reading vote, and they did it to ensure that the bill would not be killed on a technicality.

Initially, the President was reluctant to certify the matter and asked the House to try its best to get the bill moving without his intervention, he recalled.

But after the bill was passed on second reading in the House following a five-hour, suspense-filled vote, House leaders sought Mr. Aquino’s certification so that the bill would get moving in the Senate, he said. It did. The Senate approved the reproductive health measure on second and third reading on Monday.

Belmonte also said the House could possibly put the FOI bill to a second reading vote in January, after it resumes sessions following a month-long holiday break.

He said he expected lawmakers to question certain aspects of the bill.

Several lawmakers earlier manifested their intent to introduce amendments to the FOI bill in plenary, and these proposals could be  controversial.

Among the amendments they want is a right of reply provision requiring the media to give equal space to people who are going to be the subject of reports of data gathered through the FOI law, as well as the inclusion of the private sector in the coverage of the measure.

One of the bill’s main proponents, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, earlier said he wished the House would show the same political will as the Senate and pass the bill soon.

The FOI bill adopts a government policy of full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, subject to certain limitations such as information relating to national security and defense, the disclosure of which may imperil the country.

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 national security and defense.

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