House unfazed by Senate approval of FOI bill
MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. seemed unfazed that the freedom of information (FOI) bill remained stalled in the House of Representatives even as the Senate just passed its own version on Monday.
“I stated that the FOI bill will pass the House during my watch. So that is still my stand regardless of the Senate action,” Speaker Belmonte told INQUIRER.net in a text message on Monday.
Belmonte earlier vowed that the proposed measure, which seeks to promote transparency and accountability in government transactions and data, will be passed under his term.
Yet, he also said he would have to prioritize House Joint Resolution No. 1, which seeks to ease foreign ownership restrictions in the Constitution. Last Monday, the constitutional amendment committee approved Belmonte’s resolution.
In the Senate, all 21 lawmakers who were present voted to approve the FOI bill on Monday, with all eyes now at its counterpart.
But the lower chamber would have its break on March 15 and resume May 4 and yet the bill is still with the technical working group (TWG), which would consolidate its different versions.
For the bill to become a law, the Senate and House would have to pass its own versions before both chambers of Congress convene to draft the final version of the bill.
Misamis Occidental Representative Jorge Almonte, who chairs the public information committee, assured that they would continue to act on the bill, especially as the Senate just passed its own version.
“We have to proceed with the processing of the bill. The assurance is that we will act on it,” he said.
Almonte added that the committee has to follow the legislative process. “It’s just that we cannot impose on the members of the committee,” he said.
For her part, Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, an FOI author and TWG member, also expressed confidence that the House would pass the FOI bill within the year.
“I hope the House, especially the committee on public information, will be more motivated by the Senate’s example,” she said in a text message.
But not everyone is pleased. Bayan Muna representative Carlos Zarate, an author of one version and a TWG member, hit the slow pace of the chamber in tackling the bill.
During Monday’s TWG meeting, the sub-committee is still in section 7 that discussed the exemptions, the solon said. The sub-committee just finished six of the total 25 sections of the bill, Zarate said.
Zarate also criticized the House leadership for prioritizing Belmonte’s Charter change resolution.
He cited last Monday’s postponement of the TWG meeting just so some public information committee members may attend the voting for the approval of the resolution.
“The FOI’s pace in the lower House is slow precisely because of the prioritization of the House leadership,” he said in Filipino during a phone interview.
Almonte explained that they had to postpone last week’s TWG meeting since most of their members were also that of the constitutional amendments committee.
“We have basis for the postponement… I was also requested by the leaders of the House,” he said in a phone interview.
He also denied that the committee is sitting on the bill that has long been languishing in Congress.
“At my age, I’d like to be consistent with my oath of office as elected representative of the people,” Almonte said.
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