IT’S A BILL that has been sitting through the legislative wringer in the last 14 years but still there is no rush to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, according to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Online news reports of remarks made by Belmonte on Tuesday dashed the hopes of advocates yet again that the FOI bill may finally sail through the House of Representatives.
It actually did on Monday at the Senate when the senators voted 17-0 to pass the chamber’s version of the FOI bill on third and final reading.
At a press conference, Belmonte was quoted by news reports as saying, “as far as we’re concerned, we’d like to see it go through the process first.”
Belmonte’s call for “process” and “plenary debate” on the bill ignores the fact that the FOI bill had been debated more than enough since 1998, or across three successive Congress terms.
Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, was scheduled to deliver his sponsorship speech of the FOI bill, which passed on a 17-3 vote of committee members on Nov. 28, 2012, or three weeks earlier.
Evardone’s sponsorship speech could have triggered the plenary debates on the measure that Belmonte cited was necessary.
FOI advocates have precisely asked President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to certify the FOI bill as urgent, but he has not responded at all to the clamor.
Akbayan partylist Representative Walden Bello, a co-author of the bill, has remarked that, “It would help if the President were to certify it as urgent and give a speech clearly endorsing the substitute bill that contains Malacanang’s inputs.”
It is typical practice of lawmakers to rush action on bills certified urgent by the President; in the past, such bills had even passed second and third reading on the same day.
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III, lead author of the bill, had urged House leaders to demonstrate “political will” to assure the swift passage of the bill.
But rushing action on the FOI is apparently not among Belmonte’s priorities. On Tuesday he said the bill may be submitted to a vote on second reading in January 2013 yet, or after lawmakers return from the month-long Christmas break from Dec. 22, 2012 to Jan. 20, 2013.
Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan, co-convenor of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, in post on his Twitter account could only express disgust: “House leaders via delays put ?#FOIbill in place where each could sing nograles refrain – i did my best but i guess my best wasn’t good enough.”
The FOI bill was one step shy of being enacted into law in the 14th Congress. But Former Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. managed to abort the House members’ final vote to ratify the bicameral conference committee report on the FOI bill. His reason: There was supposedly no quorum on the last session day of the last regular session of the 14th Congress, even as a head count by media agencies of the lawmakers at the session hall proved otherwise.