IT PASSED last Tuesday, Nov. 27, with 17 lawmakers voting for, and only three others against, at a hearing of the Committee on Public Information of the House of Representatives.
Three days ago, in fact, the committee report on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill had been approved, raising expectations that it would soon move to plenary debates.
But committee chairman Rep. Ben Evardone seems hell-bent on taking his own sweet time to delay sending the committee report to the House plenary.
The committee had voted to approve the consolidated FOI bill as the report of the Committee on Public Information on the 16 FOI bills that had been referred to it earlier.
Under the House Committee’s Internal Rules of Procedure, the next step that Evardone should have taken is to ask the majority of the committee members to sign the committee report, and transmit it together with other supporting documents to the Committee on Rules in the required number of copies.
Alas, that has not happened. Evardone has not moved at all to make that happen.
Instead, he has scheduled another committee hearing on Dec. 11, so the committee members may supposedly sign the committee report that they had actually approved on Nov. 27.
By standard practice of Congress, committee chairpersons only has to pass around committee reports for signing by committee members, without need to call another committee meeting.
But Evardone seems inclined to dribble the FOI bill yet again.
(Only nine session days remain, however, before Congress takes its Christmas break on Dec. 22.)
This was what Atty. Nepo Malaluan, co-convenor of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, found out when inquired on Thursday, Nov. 28, with the Committee Secretary on the progress of the FOI committee report.
“We were informed that the chairman, Rep. Ben Evardone, will have to call another committee meeting to approve the committee report!” Malaluan said.
“Rep. Evardone must respect and do justice to the mandate of the 17 lawmakers who voted for the bill,” Malaluan said. “We appeal to him to perform his duty to immediately transmit the report to the Committee on Rules.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition urged Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and leaders of Congress to move with dispatch and assure the passage of the FOI bill in the 15th Congress.
About 160 organizations of students, workers, government workers, professionals, church groups, businessmen, and media and civil society groups compose the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition of FOI advocates.
“With the FOI bill out of committee in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, it is now squarely at the front of the country’s highest leaders, in Congress and the Executive,” the Coalition said.
“Given the lack of time, the FOI bill remains as good as dead in the 15th Congress, unless the Senate and House leadership, together with President Aquino, accord its passage the urgency it deserves,” the Coalition added.
Aquino, the Coalition said, “can certify to the necessity of its immediate enactment, thereby placing it on par with the highest priority measures of Congress, and saving it the delay from the interval of days needed in passing bills on second and third readings.”
“In the Senate, the Senate President, the House Committee on Public Information Chairman, and the Senators only need to make good their earlier commitments to pass the FOI bill,” it added. “They must find time to proceed with interpellation, amendments, and passage on second and third reading before it adjourns for the December break.”
“In the House of Representatives, the Committee on Rules, through the Majority Leader, is empowered to declare a bill urgent, and to set the number of days or hours to be allotted for the consideration of the bill in plenary, and when vote on the bill shall be taken,” the Coalition said.
It urged the House leaders to “start the process… calendar the sponsorship of the Committee report by next week.
“In sum,” according to the Coalition, “the resurrection and passage of the FOI bill in the 15th Congress is a matter of leadership, commitment, good faith, and political will.”
The Coalition cited “the leadership of Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada and the crucial interventions by Akbayan Reps. Walden Bello and Kaka Bag-ao, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, CIBAC Reps. Cinchona Cruz-Gonzales and Sherwin Tugna, and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño” for the approval of the FOI bill by the House committee on public information on Nov. 27.
In addition, the Coalition expressed “heartfelt gratitude for the other regular, deputized and ex-officio members of the committee, notably Cebu 1st District Rep Rachel Marguerite del Mar, Bagong Henerasyon Rep Bernadette Herrera-Dy, Kabataan Rep Raymond Palatino, AAMBIS-OWA Rep Sharon Garin, Basilan Rep Jim Hataman-Salliman, Isabela Rep Rodolfo Albano, DIWA Rep Emmeline Aglipay, Ako Bicol Rep Rodel Batocabe, An Waray Rep Neil Benedict Montejo, and Pasig City Rep Roman Romulo.”
All that remains for the 15th Congress is the fulfillment, or another betrayal, of a solemn promise to the people to pass the long-overdue Freedom of Information Act,” the Coalition said.