Senate to prioritize FOI, creation of new disaster agency

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Other priorities include measures on maritime industry and Sandiganbayan reforms

PRIORITY BILLS. Senate President Franklin Drilon says FOI will be on top of the Senate agenda when session resumes Monday, January 20. File photo by Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines – What bills will the Senate prioritize when session resumes on Monday, January 20 after the holiday break? 

Among those on top of the agenda are the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill and a measure seeking to create a “fully independent” disaster agency. 

Senate President Franklin Drilon gave assurances Sunday, January 19, the FOI bill – which seeks to institutionalize fast procedures in accessing documents of high public interest – will be given priority. FOI has traditionally moved fast in the Senate, unlike in the House of Representatives 

“We will continue the intensive discussions we had before we went on a break with the FOI bill, which is now in advanced stages of legislation,” Drilon said.

Drilon’s statements came a week after the Social Weather Stations released its 2013 Survey of Enterprises on Corruption, which showed that 88% of businessmen believe the passage of a strong FOI law will reduce corruption. 

The same survey – which was conducted at the height of the multibillion pork barrel scam – found the Senate suffered the biggest ratings downgrade of all government agencies surveyed. 

Another survey conducted by Pulse Asia, meanwhile, showed Senate trust ratings increased to 42% in December, months after the pork barrel scam, from 35% in September.  

The FOI bill is up for discussion before the Senate plenary. Meanwhile, its counterpart measures in the House of Representatives are expected to be consolidated before February 14.  

New disaster agency

As the Visayas recovers from Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), senators will also prioritize Senate Bill No. 819 to create a “fully independent” agency to replace the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). 

Under the proposed law, the new disaster agency will be directly under the Office of the President and will have its own funds, unlike the NDRRMC which gets its budget from the Department of National Defense. (READ: Wanted: Messiah for disasters)

Drilon said a measure seeking to expedite the completion of cases in the Sandiganbayan is also in the works. 

Other measures in the Senate priority list are the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) ActGo Negosyo Act of 2013 and the proposal to increase the quarterly and subsistence allowance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

A former ombudsman earlier said the backlog in the Sandiganbayan has caused cases to take an average of 10 years to be completed. (READ: Want to jail the corrupt? Wait for at least 10 years) – Angela Casauay/

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