MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers tagged in the accounting records of principal whistleblower Benhur Luy as having allegedly benefitted from the pork barrel scam decried their inclusion in the list and slammed a newspaper report for failing to include their sides. On Tuesday, May 20, they renewed calls for the passage of the right of reply (ROR) bill.
"Maybe it's time to revisit the right of reply bill," Deputy Speaker and Isabela 4th district Representative Giorgidi Aggabao told reporters.
Aggabao said an ROR law would provide those who have been the subject of news reports a "mechanism" to clear their names.
"Can I just articulate the angst of the (House) members? The problem here is how do we undo the damage? And the answer is, 'We don’t know.' That’s a simple fact. We don’t know. The bell has been rung, as they say, so how do you un-ring a bell? How do you undo the damage? How do you undo the damage?" Aggabao said in a press conference.
The ROR bill requires media outfits to publish or air the side of the subjects of news reports that are critical of these subjects.
Lawmakers in previous congresses had moved to include a right of reply provision in the yet-to-be-passed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. But FOI advocates have branded it as a "killer provision" that impinges on the right to freedom of expression. Some lawmakers have also tagged it unconstitutional.
Batangas 3rd district Representative Sonny Collantes criticized the Philippine Daily Inquirer's supposed failure to print his response to the report.
"Ang masakit pa po niyan ay tinext nila ako for my reaction at ang sabi ko naman sa aking reaction ay wala nga akong transactions doon at wala nga akong PDAF na napapunta. Naglabas lahat ng denials ng lahat ng congressmen but they did not accord me with the courtesy of printing my response to their query," Collantes said.
(What hurts is they texted me for my reaction, and in my reaction I said I had no trasactions there and none of my PDAF went there. They released all the denials of other congressmen, but they did not accord me with the courtesy of printing my response to their query.)
At least 3 journalists included in the list have denied involvement in the scam and slammed the Inquirer for what they said was the irresponsible publication of unverified information.
Some lawmakers, meanwhile, said the FOI bill, which has been pending in Congress for over two decades, must be passed before ROR.
"Bitin na bitin na 'yun. Pag nilagyan mo na naman ng added issue 'yan, eh baka good for the next Congress na yan. (That's long been pending. If you insert an added issue, it might be good for next Congress already.) We cannot afford that. We need to pass the FOI bill into law," Buhay party-list Representative Lito Atienza said in a separate press conference.
The FOI bill has been passed on 3rd and final reading in the Senate. Meanwhile, the technical working group of the House comittee on public information has yet to finish consolidating various versions of the bill.
Debates on the right of reply provision was one of the factors that stalled discussions on FOI in past Congresses.
As the pork barrel scam continues to hog the headlines, Oriental Mindoro 2nd district Representative Rey Umali called on the media to "exercise responsible journalism."
"Let me pass on the issue, can the media somehow do something to exercise caution, to exercise responsible journalism so this does not get worse? The government can't do this alone. I think this should be a concerted effort of each one of us as Filipinos," Umali said.
In the aftermath of the Inquirer report, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines issued a statement urging fellow members of the media to address corruption within their ranks. – Rappler.com