Passage of FOI bill 'just around the corner'

MANILA, Philippines – Is the time finally ripe for the Freedom of Information bill?

The committee on public information has yet to produce a consolidated version of all FOI bills filed in the House of Representatives after 9 technical working group (TWG) meetings.

However, the committee's chairman, Jorge Almonte, is confident that the passage of the measure is "just around the corner" after President Benigno Aquino III included the bill as one of his "wish lists" for Congress.

"The President has stated it as one of those bills considered priority. The Speaker himself has spoken during his opening statement," Almonte said Monday, August 4.

The technical working group (TWG) consolidating at least 35 versions of the FOI bill on Monday, August 4, conducted its 1st meeting for the 2nd regular session of Congress.

After 2 hours worth of deliberations, the group managed to finish one provision on Section 7, which pertains to exemptions. TWG members decided to keep FOI exemptions on ongoing operations of the police and the military.

Discussions on exemptions to be included in the FOI bill - one of the most contentious provisions - has caused the delay in consolidating the measure.

Almonte could not give a definite deadline on when the TWG will produce a consolidated bill. He said he can't predict how discussions at the committee would proceed.

Earlier, Almonte said the committee has scheduled weekly TWG hearings for FOI until September.

TWG not rushing measure

Despite public clamor and the request from Malacañang to pass the FOI bill, lawmakers are not rushing the approval of the measure.

Cebu Representative Gwen Garcia said the performance of the House must not be gauged based on how fast or how slow the FOI bill will be passed.

"There is a sincere desire that the provisions being tackled would not be hastily passed only to find out there might be loopholes later on," Garcia told reporters.

The FOI bill seeks to install fast procedures to access bills of high public interest.

It came close to being a law in the 14th Congress under the Arroyo administration. But the lack of a quorum in the House prevented lawmakers from ratifying the bill - the last step needed before it can be transmitted to the president to be signed into law.

In the 15th Congress, the FOI bill only managed to hurdle the committee level as lawmakers failed to discuss it on the floor.

FOI laws in other countries have encouraged more transparency in government, thus helping curb corruption and government wrongdoing. (READ: Why the Philippines needs an FOI law-