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Absenteeism imperils FOI bill in House


01:20 AM December 24th, 2012

By: Leila B. Salaverria, December 24th, 2012 01:20 AM

Proponents of the freedom of information (FOI) bill are worried that the expected absenteeism of lawmakers next year would derail debates on the measure and its passage in the House of Representatives before it goes on break for the May elections.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said the House has no recourse but to act on the FOI bill since the Senate has already passed its own version. He wondered, however, whether the nine remaining session days next year would be enough to see the measure through to the end.

Congress is expected to go on an early break in February next year in time for the campaign period for the midterm elections in May.

Tañada said the question is whether lawmakers would be returning to the Batasang Pambansa to attend sessions when Congress reopens on Jan. 21. If there would be enough warm bodies on the floor, he sees no problem for the bill.


Danger signs


But in the absence of a quorum, he said the only chance for the measure to move forward is for the House leadership to allow the sessions to continue for the debates to be recorded.

“These are the danger signs, whether people would be coming to the sessions,” he said.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, another coauthor of the measure, said the absenteeism of lawmakers, which leads to a lack of quorum, is a “perennial problem of an election year.”

Lawmakers are expected to be busy with preparations for the election campaign next year. In an earlier interview, Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II said he expected fewer lawmakers to show up in the January and February sessions.

But Baguilat said there are still ways to address this issue.

He said lawmakers could be prompted to attend sessions if the House leadership would exercise its political will to get them to show up. Another thing that could push lawmakers to arrive in the plenary is a strong public sentiment in support of the FOI bill, he said.

Palace certification

A certification from President Aquino may also be needed to “clinch the FOI passage,” he added.

Mr. Aquino had supported the FOI bill as far back as the 2010 presidential campaign period.

Earlier, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said he was not going to ask the President to certify the FOI bill as urgent. Belmonte said he wants it to go through the regular legislative process, similar to what was done with the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill.

Mr. Aquino only certified the RH bill as urgent after the House passed it on second reading.

Belmonte also expects the FOI bill to be put to a second reading vote in January next year.

But the FOI bill has yet to be sponsored on the floor, even before debates and period of amendments could begin.

Back in ICU


The speech of its designated sponsor, public information committee chair Ben Evardone, was supposed to be delivered last week. But a lack of quorum on Tuesday, and the ratification of the bicameral conference report on the RH bill during the last session on Wednesday, derailed the bill’s introduction on the floor.

Evardone earlier said he was ready to sponsor the bill and has prepared his speech, wherein he will urge colleagues to approve the measure.

Tañada yesterday said with the constant delays it has faced, the FOI bill is “back in the ICU (intensive care unit),” noting the lack of committee hearings in 2012.

Tañada said he was ready to help Evardone defend the bill on the floor when it is questioned by colleagues.

Among the contentious points expected to be raised are the inclusion of the right of reply provision in the FOI bill and the inclusion of the private sector in its coverage.

LP has no position


The President’s Liberal Party has no position yet on the FOI bill, but its leaders have spoken of supporting the measure, Tañada noted.

The FOI bill is expected to promote transparency and accountability in government, by removing the shroud of secrecy covering its transactions.

It aims to make public access to government data easier. It 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.

Originally posted: 11:25 pm | Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

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