MANILA, Philippines—Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Friday dared President Aquino to certify the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill as urgent just like what he did for the highly contentious Reproductive Health bill which was recently enacted into law.
Sen. Francis Escudero, a close ally of President Aquino, expressed optimism that Mr. Aquino would do so when the FOI measure reaches the plenary in the House of Representatives.
“In the case of the RH bill, half of the country was opposing it. With the FOI, almost the entire country wants it,” Sotto said in a text message.
Sotto cited the urgency of the passage of the FOI bill since the House of Representatives only has nine session days left to approve the measure before Congress goes on recess for the election period.
While the Senate has already approved its version of the FOI bill—the People’s Ownership of Government Information or Pogi Bill—on third and final reading before the Christmas break, the transparency measure has yet to reach the House plenary.
“[They] have only nine days and it’s not yet even in the plenary as I understand. Certifying it will send a signal to the House of Representatives that he wants it passed,” Sotto said.
Asked whether he was calling on the President to certify the FOI bill in the House as urgent, Sotto said, “Yes, because our countrymen are clamoring for it.”
Escudero, chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said the President might just be waiting for the proper timing to certify the FOI bill as urgent.
“It would definitely help but Malacañang can only do that after it has been reported out to the plenary. Certification signifies that the Palace is behind the measure and carries a lot of political weight,” Escudero told the Inquirer in a text message.
FOI proponents in the House have expressed concern that floor deliberations on the FOI could be derailed by absenteeism since many lawmakers would already be in their respective districts to prepare for their election campaigns.
The FOI bill passed the House committee on public information before the Christmas break but it has yet to be reported out in the House plenary.
Asked if he would call on the President to certify the bill as urgent, Escudero said, “I believe he will. Perhaps, [he’s] just awaiting the version that will reach the plenary.”
In December, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chair of the Senate committee on public information and sponsor of the People’s Ownership of Government Information, already called on the House to prioritize its version of the FOI bill and suggested that President Aquino certify the transparency measure as urgent.
“I want to inhibit myself from commenting on the dynamics of the bigger house… but having said that I think they should develop a sense of priority not only from the House but from the executive department,” Honasan said in a phone interview after the Senate passed the Pogi bill, the Senate version of the FOI.