MANILA, Philippines—With only nine session days left before Congress breaks for the election campaign period, groups demanding more transparency in government on Friday made one final push for the passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill in the 15th Congress.
With a number of administration allies behind him, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo urged President Aquino to “make a difference by certifying the urgency of the FOI bill.”
Pabillo recalled that Mr. Aquino had promised to push for the FOI bill during the presidential campaign in 2010, but had supposedly been sending “mixed signals” since he assumed office.
“It took him awhile to endorse amendments to address a number of concerns on the bill that he has raised, but that endorsement has not carried with it the same stamp of urgency that has characterized other measures that he has supported vigorously,” he said in a statement.
“Even now, with few session days left in the 15th Congress when his certification can truly make a difference, he has refused to give the FOI bill the prioritization that it needs.”
Pabillo joined congressmen and other FOI bill advocates in a last-minute gathering to pressure the House of Representatives to pass the measure on third and final reading during the remaining nine session days.
Congress to adjourn for polls
The Senate has already passed its own version, which is now awaiting its House counterpart. Congress will resume session on Monday, but will adjourn on Feb. 12 to give way for the campaign period.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a member of the President’s Liberal Party, described the remaining session days as a “100-meter dash” for the FOI bill. Going by experience, he said the measure could not be passed without the support of the House leadership.
“With our collective political will, we can pass the FOI bill in the remaining nine session days before we adjourn for the elections,” seven House members said in a statement read by Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada.
“A stumbling block,” they said on the passage of the FOI bill, were “the fears expressed by some of our colleagues of possible abuse by the media and citizens of the right of information that the Constitution expressly guarantees they are entitled to in the first place.”
“We urge our colleagues to overcome their personal apprehensions, in favor of the public interest (and) values embodied in the FOI bill: a stronger democracy, better governance, economic development and responsive programs and services,” they added.
The statement was also signed by Representatives Edcel Lagman, Walden Bello, Cinchona Cruz-Gonzales, Emmeline Aglipay, Sherwin Tugna, and Baguilat.
A certification by the President would mean that the House could pass the FOI bill on second and third readings on the same day. Rep. Ben Evardone, public information committee chairman, is yet to formally deliver his sponsorship speech on the floor.
But the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition said the bill need not be dependent on the certification. Citing the House rules, the group said the chamber’s committee on rules, “through the majority leader, is empowered to declare a bill urgent to facilitate its immediate passage.”
“We challenge the members of the House of Representatives who continue to resist the passage of the FOI bill, to cast their personal fears aside and take a stand for FOI. We exhort Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to be a leader and rally his colleagues to pass the FOI bill now,” according to the group’s manifesto, which was signed by 104 FOI advocates.