House info panel eyes consolidated FOI bill
MANILA, Philippines—The freedom of information (FOI) bill may just finally get moving in the House of Representatives, with the public information committee agreeing on Wednesday to form a technical working group that would consolidate the different versions of the measure that have been filed.
But if committee chair and Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte has his way, the FOI bills will instead be known as the access to information, or ATI bills.
However, several authors of the measure are opposed to Almonte’s idea as they said the word “access” does not capture the true significance of the bill, which is the citizens’ inherent right to information on matters of public concern.
Compared to the Senate, where the FOI bill has passed the committee level, the measure has been off to a sluggish start in the House.
The FOI bill was taken up during the first-ever meeting of the public information committee on Wednesday, after an earlier schedule had to be postponed. But since it was an organizational meeting, the discussions dealt mostly with the bill’s status and legislative history.
Almonte said House members should not feel pressured by the bill’s progress in the Senate, saying that committee members should be guided only by whether a measure is good for the country when passing a bill.
But he also pointed out that it was important that the FOI bill is passed as the constitutional provision on full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest was not self-executory. Its passage would uphold transparency in government and create the enabling law for the constitutional mandate, he said.
To forestall any more delays, Diwa party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay has proposed the creation of a technical working group that would discuss and consolidate bills of the same nature. Out of 40 bills in the committee, 19 are FOI measures.
The committee approved Aglipay’s proposal and designated Almonte as chair of the technical working group, giving him the “blanket authority” to decide how it would work.
Almonte said he preferred to refer to the bill as “access to information,” or ATI, because it hewed more closely to the wording of the Constitution.
But ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said he preferred the phrase “freedom of information,” as it places freedom of information on the same level as freedom of expression and other freedoms or rights.
Tinio also noted that the bill of rights talks about “right to information” on matters of public concern.
But Almonte’s suggestion also had its supporters. Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Isagani Amatong said it was a matter of style, while Abakada party-list’s Jonathan de la Cruz said Almonte’s suggestion should stay since the bill is not up for approval yet.
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