FOI took back seat to RH bill, says Evardone | Inquirer News

FOI took back seat to RH bill, says Evardone


Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information. FILE PHOTO

roups looking to blame someone for the delay in the passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill in the House of Representatives should look no farther than another equally contentious measure—the reproductive health (RH) bill.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, on Thursday said the FOI bill “took a back seat” when the lower chamber focused on getting the RH bill passed after it was certified urgent by President Aquino.


Feeling pressured



Evardone admitted feeling some “pressure” to get the FOI bill rolling in the House, after the Senate passed its version of the measure on Monday.

“Of course I feel the pressure, but we can’t do anything because the RH bill was certified as urgent so the FOI had to take a back seat,” he said in a phone interview.

Evardone was supposed to deliver his sponsorship speech for the FOI bill on the floor on Tuesday, the day after the chamber passed House Bill No. 4244, the RH measure, on its third and final reading. The session was adjourned early, however, partly because there were few representatives present.

Evardone said he again failed to bring the bill to the floor on Wednesday because the House had to wait for the bicameral conference committee report on the RH bill. Since a faxed copy arrived late, HB 4244 was ratified by the House only after 7 p.m.

Not urgent bill



While they were waiting, however, a number of congressmen were allowed to deliver privilege speeches. One lawmaker expressed his support for the RH bill and was interpellated by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

With Congress now on Christmas break, Evardone said the FOI bill would have to wait until the session resumes on Jan. 21.

“The FOI bill will have to go through the usual process, meaning it has to be sponsored on the floor, there will be a period of debates and amendments, and then voting,” he said.

He noted that Malacañang had announced the President would not certify the FOI bill as urgent. Doing so would have allowed the House to pass the measure on second and third reading on the same day, which was the case with the RH bill in the Senate.

Inclusion of ‘right of reply’


Evardone said he was anticipating a more heated debate on the proposed “right of reply” (ROR) provision being pushed by Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino. It was one the contentious issues that delayed the measure in Evardone’s committee.

“This time, I would leave it to the plenary to decide whether or not to include the ROR in the FOI bill,” he said.

The RH bill took 14 years to pass. How long will the FOI bill, now languishing for 20 years, have to wait?

In a separate interview, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said the FOI bill had the distinction of being one of the longest—if not the longest—stagnating bills in Congress, having been filed in 1992.

Now Tañada and the bill’s proponents will be racing to have the measure approved in the nine session days left to the House in January and February, before the representatives go on election break.

Public access


He remained hopeful though. “We still have nine session days and of course I think by then the focus would be on the FOI bill,” he said.

The FOI bill would make it the law to allow public access to government documents and transactions, subject to limitations such as information relating to national security and defense.

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Among other exceptions were suggestions by Malacañang to include records of minutes and opinions expressed during decision—or policy-making meetings deemed by the President to be privileged by reason of sensitivity or impairment of the presidential deliberative process, and data related to law enforcement and defense.

TAGS: Ben Evardone, Congress, FOI Bill, Government, Legislation, Politics, RH bill

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