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MANILA, Philippines - The Freedom of Information Act (FOI) will be one of the priority bills of the House of Representatives when Congress resumes session on January 21, Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte, Jr said.
But the measure, which seeks to establish fast procedures in obtaining documents of public interest, has to deal with a tight legislative schedule and a possible quorum problem.
As the election fever kicks, Belmonte admitted in an interview with reporters that mustering a quorum will be a challenge when Congress resumes session. Most lawmakers are gunning for re-election in May 2013.
“Based on past experience, that (lack of a quorum) is a possibility but I’m hopeful that at the appropriate times necessary, at the nine session days remaining that we will be able to transact business,” Belmonte said.
With other legislative businesses, such as the ratification of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, still pending in the House, Belmonte appealed to his colleagues to show up in session.
“We appeal to their sense of patriotism,” he said.
In an interview with reporters before the Christmas break, Quezon Rep Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada said he hopes the House would at least tackle the bill in the 3 remaining weeks of session.
"We will tackle it hopefully these nine days before we go on campaign mode. It may be an election issue and it should be an election issue because it's an issue of reform. I'm sure it will be asked among senatorial candidates," he said.
Running out of time
Should the House muster a quorum, will lawmakers have enough time to pass the bill?
When session resumes on January 21, Congress will only have 9 session days left before the campaign period for the May 2013 elections. Lawmakers will only return to work on June 2 to adjourn the 15th Congress.
The FOI bill is still in the period of sponsorship.
Eastern Samar Rep Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, failed to sponsor the bill before Congress adjourned session on December 19 for the holidays.
Once sponsored, it will go through the period of debate and the period of amendments before the second reading vote.
Unless certified as urgent by the President, the measure will have to wait for 3 days before it can be taken up for 3rd reading.
Just like the Reproductive Health Bill and the Sin Tax Law, does the FOI bill have a chance of being certified urgent?
Belmonte earlier said he was not keen on asking the President to certify the FOI bill urgent, saying that lawmakers would like the bill to "go through the process first."
An author of the FOI bill, Ifugao Rep Teddy Baguilat, agreed with Belmonte.
“Even with a certification, the bill hasn’t been discussed adequately in the plenary thus we will have to entertain interpellations and proposed amendments,” he said earlier.
Despite being part of his campaign promises, the FOI bill is not among President Aquino's priority bills.
'Good as dead'
The Right to Know, Right Now! coalition said in a statement in November November that the FOI bill "remains as good as dead" without the stamp of urgency.
The group said Aquino “can certify to the necessity of its immediate enactment, thereby placing it on par with the highest priority measures of Congress, and saving it the delay from the interval of days needed in passing bills on second and third readings."
In spite of the support of 117 House members for the bill, the bill was only put to a vote on November 27 during the committee's 3rd hearing for 2012. The FOI only moved to plenary on December 11 after Evardone insisted on calling another committee hearing to approve the final report.
On the other hand, the Senate approved its version of the FOI bill on 3rd and final reading before adjourning session.
The FOI bill was two steps away from becoming a law in the previous 14th Congress. It only needed the ratification of the House and the signature of the President. While the Senate managed to ratify it, the House did not due to lack of quorum. - Rappler.com