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Prospects appear to be dimming for FOI bill in House


05:51 AM January 2nd, 2013

By: Christian V. Esguerra, January 2nd, 2013 05:51 AM

House of Representatives. RYAN LEAGOGO/

MANILA, Philippines–Will the administration-dominated House of Representatives see the light of day in the freedom of information (FOI) bill with only nine session days remaining in the 15th Congress?

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on Tuesday said he was “still evaluating [the] chances” of the FOI bill being passed, given the tight legislative calendar.

But Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chair of the House committee on public information, was more optimistic, saying there was still hope for the FOI bill.

“Yes naman. I want it debated and voted on the floor when we resume,” he told the Inquirer in a text message.

There was, however, no mention of the FOI bill in the yearend statement of Belmonte, who described 2012 as a “historic year of trials and triumphs,” mentioning the sin tax, kasambahay and reproductive health bills, which were promptly passed by both chambers of Congress after President Aquino certified them as urgent.

There appeared to be no such intention by the President to certify the FOI bill as urgent, according to some lawmakers.

Congress will resume its session on Jan. 21 and adjourn on Feb. 8 to prepare for the campaigns for the May elections.

The bill would give the public access to all records of government documents and transactions, with exemptions such as those pertaining to national security.

Freedom of information is provided for in the 1987 Constitution but it needs an implementing law.  Congress has conveniently sat on passing a law on this constitutional right for the past quarter of a century.

Unlike the House, the Senate passed its version of the FOI bill on third and final reading late last year.

Evardone, who has yet to submit the bill for plenary debates, said one of the issues hounding FOI bill is the proposal to include a “right of reply” provision.

Press groups have denounced this as an attempt to abridge the freedom of speech and of the press by placing “conditions” on the people’s right to freely comment, or launch campaigns to persuade others to join their various causes—within the limits already set by libel and national security laws.

Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada fretted that a quorum may not be achieved for plenary sessions and appealed to his colleagues to allow the FOI debates to continue.

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