MANILA, Philippines — The Freedom of Information Bill was finally tackled at the House of Representatives on Monday.
This was after the House finally conducted its first roll call this year, after failing to check on the attendance of its members for the first three session days last week.
There were 186 congressmen present during the session when House Bill 6766 or the Freedom of Information Act was introduced. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Sunday sent reminders to House members to attend session so they could muster quorum.
FOI Bill principal author Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said that the controversial measure they were pushing was not included in the day’s Order of Business.
But Public information panel chairman Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone was allowed to sponsor HB 6766 at past 6 p.m.
Tañada said that the sponsorship pushed through as the result of an agreement between the majority and minority blocs of the House.
FOI co-author Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat had earlier said that contentious issues on the bill were best tackled on the floor after the measure was sponsored.
In his sponsorship speech, Evardone said that the passage of the FOI Bill “will change governance as we know it, radically, and for the better.”
The version being pushed provides exceptions for certain information to be kept secret under guidelines of an executive order, if it can interfere with military and law enforcement operations, or if it constitutes invasion of privacy, among others.
If enacted, the bill will allow individuals to submit requests for government information. The measure also proposes remedies for possible denial of such requests, such as filing complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman.
The bill mandates that government agencies upload on its websites records on its annual budget, finances including income and expenditure, and procurement and construction contracts, among others.
Evardone, reading from his sponsorship speech of the bill, assured that the exceptions should not be used to cover up wrongdoing or corruption.
This piece of legislation has taken twenty years by now, according to Tanada in his sponsorship speech for the measure.
Possibly spurred by questions on possible abuse on the FOI Bill once enacted, he said that they were open to amendments and urged all House members to allow the measure to be debated and voted on “if (they) believe in sincere governance.”
Tañada admitted that there was limited time, with only five session days left for the 15th Congress to work before the campaign period starts, but urged the House leadership to help the bill’s passage.
“The challenge to the House of Representatives of the 15th Congress is to finally see to the enactment of the FOI Law… Question is whether we can maintain quorum,” he said.
And with time running out fast, FOI authors said that they were planning to speak with President Benigno Aquino III and urge him to certify the bill as urgent.
Baguilat said that they would still try despite the Malacañang’s earlier stand for
House members to resolve issues on HB 6766 amongst themselves first before the executive branch came into the picture.
Akbayan Partylist Representative Walden Bello has earlier said that they were preparing to accompany FOI advocates from various sectors to convince the President that the people need the FOI Bill passed in the 15th Congress.