House goes on recess without tackling FOI bill
MANILA, Philippines—The Freedom of Information Bill remained hanging in its sponsorship stage until the last session day before the House of Representatives went on recess for the campaign period for the May elections.
Authors of the bill in the lower chamber of the 15th Congress pushed to keep the measure alive but said that passion without quorum and later on, Malacañang’s support, was just not enough.
“The advocates have been let down by the people we thought were our allies,” said Akbayan Partylist Representative Walden Bello, a co-author of the FOI Bill.
He said fighting for the bill’s survival became difficult without the President’s certification.
“We are passionate about FOI, but passion is not enough at this point,” said the lawmaker.
Delays punctuated deliberations on the FOI Bill from the committee level up to its introduction at the plenary.
Sponsorship speeches alone, took several session days, with authors trying to work out a way around the consistent lack of quorum and the minority bloc’s efforts to delay the measure’s passage.
But with the election fever high in Congress, more and more lawmakers failed to show up at session, adding to the authors’ frustration.
On Monday, even Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. admitted that there was little hope left for the bill.
Cibac Partylist Representative Sherwin Tugna in a recent interview said he found it frustrating that they could not defend their moves to tackle the bill since there would always be fear that quorum would be questioned.
But Bello said there would definitely be efforts to revive the FOI Bill in the 16th Congress.
Its principal author for the 15th Congress, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, would no longer be in the House but Bello said he and the advocates would continue pushing for the measure.
“I am certainly committed to filing it in the 16th Congress if reelected. We will carry on with Cong Erin Tañada’s fight,” he said.
Advocates closed their campaign for the bill in this Congress with a heavy heart, saying they had “exhausted all avenues that we thought were open to us to get positive, decisive action from the leaders of the House of Representatives and from President Aquino no less.”
“Yet they turned a deaf ear to our summons for leadership. Instead they caved in to their fears of an informed and empowered people. They gave us the lie to their avowed claims of transparency and good governance,” the FOI Youth Initiative said in a statement.
The biggest disappointment they said was their belief that the bill had the President’s support since “three years ago he had promised he would accord the bill top priority.”
They lambasted the Malacañang spokespersons’ “curt” response to their appeals for the measure to be certified as urgent, telling them that he “wants to see a ‘healthy debate’ on the FOI bill in the House.”
“Our sad lesson: Words are to candidates cheap, and Presidents lie, indeed,” said the advocates.
“Today we do not bury the FOI Billl. Instead we keep it alive and recommit ourselves to push it in the 16th Congress—despite or in spite of Aquino and his allies,” they said.