FOI in 2013? Palace still on wait-see mode
MANILA, Philippines – 2012 is the year of the Reproductive Health and sin tax reform laws. Will 2013 be the year of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act?
Malacañang remained non-committal on whether it will prioritize the passage of the FOI bill next year after the enactment of the two controversial measures that President Benigno Aquino III supported.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace is still monitoring the movement of the bill in the House of Representatives.
“The FOI [bill] kasi, meron silang mga bagong pinagdedebatehan (there are new issues they are debating on) and as we have said before, we’d like to see how the debates will play out before we move further,” Valte said in an interview on government-run radio dzRB on Saturday, December 29.
“We’d like to see the debates move on in FOI because there are stakeholders that do raise other concerns that have not been extensively discussed before,” she added.
Instead, Valte said the Aquino administration’s priorities for 2013 include the national land use bill, the conditional cash transfer program, and Public-Private Partnership Program.
Despite Valte’s statement, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr has vowed to make the FOI bill one of the chamber’s priorities when Congress resumes session on January 21.
The ball is left in the House’s court after the Senate passed on third and final reading its version of the measure last December 17. The Senate version is known as the People’s Ownership of Government Information (POGI) Act of 2012.
The bill has yet to be sponsored in the House. After sponsorship, the bill will be subjected to debates and amendments before voting on second and third reading.
Proponents of the measure are running out of time with only 3 weeks of session remaining before Congress goes on break again on February 9 for the 2013 elections. Belmonte has said that another challenge is mustering a quorum.
Yet Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III, principal author of the FOI bill, is hopeful that the House will tackle the bill.
"We will tackle it hopefully these 9 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.
The FOI bill aims to institutionalize transparency and accountability by providing access to public records and establishing fast procedures to obtain these documents. It almost became law in the 14th Congress but the House was not able to ratify the bill because of a lack of quorum.
FOI advocates have called on President Benigno Aquino III to certify the bill as urgent. Doing so will allow the House to vote on the bill on second and third reading on the same day, and send the signal to the chamber to fast-track the measure.
The FOI bill is not a priority measure of Aquino even if it was his campaign promise to push for the bill. In contrast, Aquino certified the RH and sin tax bills urgent.
Still, Belmonte and FOI bill author Ifugao Rep Teddy Baguilat have said that they are not keen on asking Aquino to certify the FOI bill urgent for now.
“Even with a certification, the bill hasn’t been discussed adequately in the plenary thus we will have to entertain interpellations and proposed amendments,” Baguilat said in a previous interview.
While the FOI bill breezed through the Senate, it faced an uphill climb in the House. In past months, so-called killer provisions like the right of reply, and procedural and logistical delays hindered the progress of the measure.
Committee on Public Information Chairman Eastern Samar Rep Ben Evardone has also been accused of “dribbling the bill.”
The FOI bill has been moving slowly in the House even after 117 lawmakers pledged support for the measure. – Rappler.com