This, according to members of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition, is the crime that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzalez III should be held accountable after Congress again failed to tackle the Freedom of Information bill.
In a statement released to the media after coalition members walked out of today’s Congress session, the coalition said it was holding the House leadership primarily responsible if the FOI again fails to make it through the legislative mill.
Coalition lead convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan said there was more than enough time for Congress to tackle the bill if only the House leadership committed itself to exercise true transparency and accountability. For example, Malaluan said that even without an outright endorsement by President Benigno S. Aquino III of the bill, the chamber was well within its rights to mark the bill as urgent.
Malaluan said that so far, Congress has only exhibited a clear “pattern of delays” that betrays the true position of Congress when it comes to transparency.
The Coalition statement follows:
HOUSE FAILS THE PEOPLE YET AGAINWe express our indignation over the House leadership’s lack of responsiveness on the FOI bill.We came to the session today anticipating the sponsorship of the FOI committee report, only to be frustrated again with its non-inclusion in the Order of Business.The Committee Report has been referred to the Rules Committee in the session last December 18 yet, and given the lack of material time for the bill’s consideration, we were expecting that the House leadership would not let a session day pass that the FOI bill is not tackled.Today’s non-inclusion of the FOI bill in the Order of Business, even for just its sponsorship, is just the latest in the pattern of delays that has beset the FOI bill in the 15th Congress.Should the FOI bill meet a redux of its tragic fate in the 14th Congress, the members of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition would have no choice but to hold Speaker Belmonte and Majority Leader Gonzalez responsible for command negligence.It will be recalled that Rep. Ben Evardone, chair of the House Committee on Public Information, had on several instances earlier reneged on his commitment to hold committee hearings on the FOI bill.That early, FOI advocates have sought Belmonte’s intervention and action, but he chose only to ignore, or play ignorant and indifferent to our appeals. As Evardone hemmed and hawed, legislators in favor of the FOI bill launched an initiative to use Rule IX, Section 37, par. 1 of the Rules of the House of Representatives, which states:“Regular and Special Meetings. The committees shall hold regular meetings at least twice a month. Special meetings may be held by the committee which may be called by the chairperson or by one-fourth (1/4) of its Members. Provided, that the Members shall be notified in writing and, as far as practicable, through electronic mail indicating therein the date, time, place and agenda of the meeting.”Led by Akbayan Representatives Walden Bello and Kaka Bag-ao, the group was able to secure the signatures of more than the eight Committee members needed to put the rule in effect.Belmonte, however, prevailed upon the group to allow Evardone to call the hearing instead, which allowed Evardone to further delay committee action.Belmonte could make up for lost time by acting decisively on the FOI bill on te FOI bill in the nine session days beginning today. Allowing its sponsorship today would have been an indication of a new resolve on FOI.Speaker Belmonte has failed us again.Still, consistent with our continuing demand and assertion of our right to information, we will continue to closely monitor the House action on FOI up to the last session day on February 6.