Ooops… No room for FOI bill

Carmela Fonbuena

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Unbelievable and a little funny, but true. The House of Representatives is postponing the scheduled committee hearing on the FOI bill because there is no available room

DRIBBLING FOI? Advocates blame House committee on public information chairman Ben Evardone for failing to put the bill to a vote (caricature by The Right to Know, Right Now coalition)

MANILA, Philippines – Unbelievable and funny, but true. The House of Representatives is postponing the scheduled committee hearing on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill because there is no available room. Literally.

“There is no room… The hearing is rescheduled to November 13. That’s final,” House committee on public information chairman Rep Ben Evardone told reporters on Tuesday, October 9.

It’s supposed to finally happen next week, between October 15 to 17. Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr instructed Evardone to hold a hearing after the October 15 scheduled passage of the government’s 2013 budget. (Congress will take another break from October 20 to November 4. Session will resume November 5.)

The FOI bill seeks to impose speedy procedures for obtaining documents of high public interest. It has been languishing in the House of Representatives. It remains in the first stage of the legislative process: pending approval on first reading before the House committee on public information.

This in spite of 117 members of the House of Representatives supporting the bill, based on a signature campaign launched by the bill’s principal authors.

No coordination

Expecting it as a possible reason to further delay the hearing, FOI main author House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III said he had reserved a room for the committee hearing. It’s a legitimate concern. Availability of rooms is a common problem for committee chairmen.

“I anticipated that reasoning and I reserved a room for a committee hearing that the committee on public information can use if they want to,” Taňada told reporters in a press conference on Tuesday.
“It just takes a little effort to look for a room and maybe I did that effort,” he added.

But Evardone said Tañada did not coordinate with the committee secretariat. “He did not coordinate with me. When I checked with my committee secretary, she told me we were 3rd on reserve. So I decided that we would just hold it on our regular slot,” Evardone explained.

Running out of time

The FOI bill is running out of time. The next elections is 7 months away. Bills not approved by the current 15th Congress will go back to square one when new members assume their posts in June 2013.

To give the FOI bill a fighting chance, Tañada said it has to be passed on 3rd and final reading in December 2012 at the latest both by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The previous 14th Congress was one step away from passing the FOI bill into law. The Senate ratified it but the House of Representatives under Speaker Prospero Nograles did not. –

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