FIREWORKS erupted during Tuesday’s House Committee on Public Information hearing on the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.
But when the smoke cleared, FOI advocates realized that the lone victim that lay dead on the floor was, again, the Freedom of Information bill.
Members of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition said congressmen opposed to the FOI bill had effectively murdered the measure through deliberate moves to delay discussions on the bill until there was no more time left for the committee.
Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, who had earlier vowed to block moves to approve the FOI unless his proposal to insert a Right of Reply provision is considered, effectively filibustered by raising procedural issues against the bill’s main proponent, Rep. Erin Tanada.
Antonino complained that Tanada, as chairman of the committee’s technical working group, had not included Antonino’s version with the Right of Reply provision in his consolidated bill. Tanada for his part said that he decided to have the mother committee discuss Antonino’s proposed provision because it would be too contentious to resolve in the technical working group level.
Antonino however kept raising the same objections throughout the committee hearing, and demanding an explanation from Tanada. As a result, Antonino did much of the talking during the hearing.
Antonino’s insistence caught the ire of several members of the committee, resulting in quite a few heated exchanges.
An irritated Rep. Walden Bello moved that the committee members vote on whether to adopt the consolidated version of the FOI bill, saying that Antonino was merely trying to delay the proceedings. “Mister Antonino has basically tried to stymie these proceedings,” Bello said.
The motion to put the bill to a vote was seconded by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
Antonino however made a motion of his own, this time to have the committee adjourn as it was already four in the afternoon. Antonino argued that the committee had run out of time to decide on the FOI since the House leadership had earlier ruled that all legislators must attend the four o clock sessions unless they have prior permission from the House leadership or the Ways and Means committee.
Evardone refused to act on Bello’s motion to put the FOI to a vote, saying there were still too many “contentious issues” that have to be ironed out, including Antonino’s Right of Reply provision, and another proposal by Rep. Pedro Romualdo to include private persons in the FOI bill.
Evardone instead ruled in favor of Antonino’s motion to adjourn the committee hearing, saying “I do not want to be a party to a violation of the House rules.”
Right to Know Right Now Coalition convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan said it was clear that the committee leadership was just playing around with the FOI. He said the coalition finds it suspicious that the FOI was calendared as the last bill to be discussed by the committee for the day, only to be met with procedural complaints by Antonino.
In fact, Malaluan said, none of the so-called contentious issues in the FOI bill were even discussed because Antonino’s complaints on procedural matters had taken up all of the committee’s time.
“The FOI is already as good as dead in the 15th Congress,” Malaluan sad. “We wanted the committee to make a decision today, but they made sure that the decision will not happen.”
Malaluan also pointed out that Antonino was merely repeating the same complaint that he had earlier made during the committee’s first hearing in March this year. Malaluan said Antonino’s complaint then had already been resolved by the committee, so there was no reason for the committee let Antonino “hijack” today’s hearing.
“This already speaks of the commitment of the chairman of the committee, and the ability of certain personalities, with the cooperation of the chairman, to stop the orderly deliberation of the bill,” Malaluan said.
“But the death of the FOI has several contributory factors,” Malaluan added. “Walang pwedeng maghugas ng kamay dito, including the leadership of the House, and including the positioning taken by Malacanang in this process.”
The statement of members of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition follows:
BAM goes the Freedom of Information bill!
BATTERY, ASSAULT, and MURDER – this was what happened to the FOI bill today at the hearing of the Committee on Public Information of the House of Representatives.
The FOI bill is dead in the 15th Congress.
By ensuring that no committee report will be approved in today’s hearing, the House Committee on Public Information has for all intents and purposes left no time for any FOI measure to get approved in the 15th Congress.
Committee Chair Ben Evardone was the biggest disappointment of all. His error: a dismal failure of leadership.
First, Evardone enrolled the FOI bill as the last of eight items on the committee’s agenda. When the committee finally discussed the FOI bill, Evardone next allowed Rep. Rodolfo Antonino to hijack most of the proceedings and perorate endlessly on how Antonino’s right of reply bill was not considered by the committee’s Technical Working Group (TWG) led by FOI proponent Rep. Erin Tanada.
In effect, Antonino made certain that the committee’s time was wasted on his redundant insistence on having his complaint heard. In truth, Antonino had already raised the very same issue at the last committee hearing in March. In fact, Antonino’s complaint was already resolved in that last hearing.
In the end the committee lost time to discuss any substantive issues on the FOI, particularly the contents of the bill.
And when a motion was made and seconded to put the consolidated bill to a vote, Antonino, who used up most of the committee’s time to complain about the TWG, promptly moved to adjourn the committee hearing, citing a technicality which was sustained by the committee chairman.
What happened today was just the final blow delivered by Evardone and Antonino, which left the rest of the committee members uncannily helpless to stop the slaughter of the FOI.
By all indications, the conspiracy to kill the FOI bill had commenced much earlier.
President Benigno S. Aquino III led the battery and assault on FOI, with his mindless “concerns” about the bill. In January 2012, at the height of the Corona impeachment trial, he all too suddenly endorsed the bill, albeit in a few perfunctory press statements only. But in the next eight months, nothing more was heard from him by way of real proof of endorsement of the bill.
The President’s Liberal Party allies in the House, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez III, did not move either. They neither pushed nor nudged the bill to fruition. Evardone did not call committee hearings until today.
The FOI bill is dead, actually murdered on its tracks. Its butchers? The lackadaisical Evardone. The mindlessly perorating Antonino. The President and his flaccid support. Belmonte, Gonzalez, and the Liberal Party leaders of the House, by propping and blessing Evardone’s duplicity on the FOI bill.
Attorney Nepomuceno Malaluan
Institute for Freedom of Information
Co-convenor, Right to Know Right Now! Coalition
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Jenina Joy Chavez
Southeast Asia Monitor for Action
Focus on the Global South
Mary Anne Manahan
Save Agrarian Reform Alliance
Attorney Eirene Aguila
Dr. Leah Paquiz
Basic Education Sector Teachers Federation
Annie Enriquez Geron
Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK)
Filipino Migrant Workers Group
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
Reylynne dela Paz
Access to Information Network