Coalition fears “second death” of FOI bill, appeals to Evardone for Committee action

This is the press statement from the The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a network of over 150 organizations and civil society leaders pushing for the passage of the FOI Act, today aired its appeal for Rep. Ben Evardone, Chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, to call hearings on the FOI bill and complete its committee report before Congress concludes its second regular session on June 7.

The coalition said any further delay in committee action could spell the second death of the FOI bill. It will be recalled that the FOI bill almost passed in the 14th Congress, but in the final session days the House leadership refused to put the bicameral conference report to a ratification vote. When it did in the last session day, proceedings were aborted due to lack of quorum.

The coalition shared the observation made by Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr., a member of the committee, that the window to pass the measure is fast closing. In a privilege speech, Rep. Baguilat emphasized that the 15th Congress is already at the homestretch of its legislative work.

“Historical experience tells us that by the third regular session, the coming elections will not only become the preoccupation of many of us, the election period will in fact cut short our time for legislation so that when we adjourn in February next year, legislation will virtually come to an end.”, Rep Baguilat said.

The House Committee first conducted a hearing on the FOI bills on 23 November 2010. It appointed a technical working group to consolidate the bills, which submitted its report in February 2011. The committee, however, deferred further action on the bills to await the results of the work of a study group created by Malacañang to study a number of concerns raised by President Aquino. On 2 February 2012, the Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Cabinet Cluster Secretariat, by authority of President Aquino, transmitted to the Committee an FOI bill with a number of amendments to the proposed consolidated versions that the committee was working on.

The coalition anticipated that President Aquino’s endorsement of the passage of the FOI law, and the emerging consensus on various contentious issues, would have sped up Congressional action. However, after another committee hearing on 13 March 2012, a number of issues remained unresolved, including the insertion of a right of reply provision being proposed by Rep. Rodolfo Antonino.

The coalition pointed out that the Chairman of the House committee has the responsibility to facilitate the deliberation of these issues through hearings, dialogues, and consultation, to reach a timely resolution. The coalition noted that Senator Honasan has committed to finalize the Senate committee report and sponsor the same in plenary before the close of the second regular session on June 7. It appealed to Rep Evardone for a similar commitment. – The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition