FINALLY, but hopefully not belatedly, the House of Representatives began tackling the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill on the House floor, as the House leadership allowed the bill’s authors to sponsor the measure in plenary on Monday.
The bill however still hangs precariously in the balance, with only five more session days before legislators go on an extended election campaign break beginning Feb. 8. The 15th Congress only resumes session for three days in June to wrap up its proceedings and welcome the entry of the 16th Congress.
House committee on public information chairman Ben Evardone delivered the sponsorship speech Monday late afternoon, even as FOI advocates marched to Malacanang to ask President Benigno S. Aquino III to certify the bill as urgent.
Members of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition said the FOI bill was now in the “intensive care unit” and needing resuscitation by Malacanang through a certification as urgent. This is because the group believes that only an outright endorsement by the President could allow the bill to get to the finish line before Congress adjourns.
The bill had slept for almost a year in the committee level before finally squeezing past the committee late November last year. The bill had been opposed by several legislators who insist that the Philippine media was already too powerful as to be abusive. Proponents of the FOI in turn insist that the bill is for the benefit of every citizen, and not just the media.
Despite repeated calls for Congress to prioritize the measure, the House leadership appeared uncommitted. Two days were lost last week after Davao Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas threatened to question the presence of a quorum in his bid to block a law that creates the new province of Davao Occidental. On Monday, there were more than a hundred Congressmen who came to the session floor, enough to be considered a quorum.
At the same the President Aquino himself had refused to commit himself with an outright endorsement of the measure, saying that it was up to the Congress plenary to act on the bill.