THE LONG-DELAYED Freedom of Information (FOI) bill breezed through the Senate floor on second reading Tuesday night, with main sponsor Senator Gregorio Honasan guaranteeing passage on third and final reading by next week.
But prospects are not as bright in the House of Representatives, as FOI advocates prepare to battle it out with the measure’s opponents in the plenary. Also on Tuesday, the House committee on public information formally approved the consolidated committee report, paving the way for debates on the House version in the plenary. The consolidated committee report had actually been approved as early as last month, but committee chairman Ben Evardone had insisted on calling another committee hearing just to formalize the approval.
In contrast, the Senate version was reported to the floor last week, after which several senators proposed amendments to the bill. Honasan said the amendments were mostly minor; Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, for example, had wanted to rename the bill to the Freedom of Information Act or FOI, after Honasan gave the measure the somewhat catchier name POGI, or the People’s Ownership of Government Information Act. POGI, of course, is a colloquial word meaning “handsome.”
In the end, Honasan said he preferred to keep the name POGI, even though advocates are more familiar with the acronym FOI.
After a brief period of amendments, Honasan moved to have the bill passed on second reading. Hearing no objections, Presiding Officer Jinggoy Estrada declared the measure passed.
Honasan said the third reading of the bill would be a mere formality in the Senate. As such, he said FOI advocates must now train their guns on the House of Representatives.
Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan, Right to Know Right Now Coalition convenor, said the ball is now in the court of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and President Benigno S. Aquino III.
Malaluan said that with the FOI virtually passed in the upper chamber, it would be up to the President and the House Speaker to wield their clout and make the measure move through the House.
In particular, Malaluan said FOI advocates are still hoping that President Aquino would certify the bill as urgent. Malaluan pointed out that the President had repeatedly expressed his support for the FOI when he was still a presidential candidate. The President’s interest in the bill appear to have waned though after he assumed office.
The bill has met some resistance in the lower chamber, with several congressmen demanding the insertion of a provision providing for a right of reply, or ROR. The ROR rider would require media organizations to give equal time, space, and prominence to officials who feel that they were the targets of negative reportage. ROR proponents in the House of Representatives insist that this provision would curb alleged excesses within the media. Media organizations however say that the ROR proviso is unconstitutional, as it virtually legislates editorial content.