MANILA, Philippines – The consolidated version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill does not include right of reply, the bill’s “champions” in the government emphasized on Monday, December 1.
The right of reply has become a subject of controversy since it will require media outfits to give people who want to reply to their critical reports as much space or airtime as the original report.
“Insisting on the right of reply to be included is non-negotiable,” Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr said during the 3rd Transparency Forum organized by the Asia Society Philippine Foundation on Monday.
There are currently at least 3 RoR bills pending in the committee level. (READ: DOJ backs right of reply bills)
The consolidated bill was approved by the House committee on public information on November 24 with a vote of 10-3. Once implemented, it will require immediate procedures in accessing government documents and sanctions will be imposed on those who fail to follow the proposed law.
According to Baguilat, most of those who push for the inclusion of the RoR are afraid that the proposed bill will be used against them – especially by the media – once enacted.
“The fear might be out of hand as the bill is more than for the media,” he said. “I just tell my colleagues who are for said clause to attend other hearings as we are focused on the FOI.”
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, however, insisted that even if the right of reply doesn’t exist, journalists should be able to police their ranks and ensure ethical and fair reporting on issues.
“If we aspire for openness in the government, let us also aspire for fairness in media reporting,” he said.
According to the committee chair, Misamis Occidental Representative Jorge Almonte, the measure that “promotes accountability and transparency that are the pillars of good governance” is taking so long to be passed due to the legislative process that needs to be followed.
Baguilat also said the bill wasn’t immediately passed at the committee level because of the task of consolidating 24 proposed bills.
“It’s very difficult to come up with a consensus among the numerous FOI versions given,” he explained. “In fact, there were those who withdrew their sponsorships due to the debates concerning the exceptions.”
However, the advocates are expecting a more heated debate as the bill will now move to the House plenary for deliberations. They are hoping to pass the FOI bill in the middle of 2015 or before the Aquino administration ends.
Angara is afraid that it will lead to more problems if the FOI will not be passed immediately.
“I am confident that the FOI will be passed, but the question is when,” he said. “If it will still take a long time, our government and the people will be poorer.”
The Senate passed on 3rd and final reading the FOI measure on March 10, with 22 voting yes. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Grace Poe, said that it is a consolidated version of various proposed measures “that the Filipino people can be proud of.” – Rappler.com