IT’S THE EVE of the last session day of the House of Representatives, and the death watch for the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill has begun.
By all indications, the election campaign — not the FOI nor any other reform bills — is on top of mind of a majority of lawmakers seeking re-election or higher office on May 13, 2013.
But first, let’s do a wrap of differently pegged stories about the gasping-for-life FOI bill.
First, the story of surrender by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Rep. Ben Evardone, House committee on public information chairman. In a repot on Monday by GMANews Online, Belmonte pronounced the FOI bill “technically” dead.
He dashed all hopes that the FOI bill could still pass, with the House holding its last three session days this week. The lack of time, he said, would not allow for vigorous debate on the bill. “We cannot just curtail interpellation. May mga gustong mag-interpellate.”
Days earlier, Evardone himself had said he was waiving the white flag of surrender, then proclaimed the FOI bill dead. Yet just as quickly, Evardone was named as a co-spokesperson of the ruling Liberal Party coalition and its official candidates in the May 2013 elections.
The outlook for FOIbill’s passage is grim yet Belmonte said there was still a “slim chance” to pass it, if President Benigno Aquino will only certify it as urgent. “If the President certifies it, we can meet beyond Wednesday and Thursday. In that sense, there’s still that slim chance. Hanggang alas-dose ng gabi, basta huwag lang mawala ang quorum,” Belmonte said.
But Aquino has been tagged as the main stumbling block to the quick passage of the bill in a second story that an international group of freedom of information advocates ran days ago.
Titled “Lack of Aquino Support Seen Dooming Philippines FOI Bill,” the story was posted online at www.freedominfo.org, a global network of FOI advocates.
The story lamented the President’s position, as relayed by Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Jan. 31: “Our position is let’s have a debate, a healthy debate on this issue and we’ll take it from there.”
Freedominfo.org cited reports quoting House members saying that Aquino does not want the bill passed.
Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan was quoted in the story as saying that Lacierda’s “healthy debate” proposition is “an insult,” adding that Aquino and Lacierda knew full well “that the House leadership had used every parliamentary trick in the books to prevent any debate from happening.”
Freedominfo.org took notice of interviews in the Philippines press by various lawmakers who categorically said Aquino himself did not like the FOI bill passed.
For instance, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano, a member of the minority bloc, had told the Inquirer that, “I heard that the Malacañang is not for it.”
The Manila Standard also quoted Albano as saying that Aquino
“does not like the FOI bill. That’s what I gathered from Palace sources.”
in addition, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez had said, “If they want the FOI they can just ram it through our throat.” Speaking at a news conference, he added: “But obviously, the Palace itself is not interested in passing the bill.”
Meanwhile, CIBAC Party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna was quoted to have said in a Jan. 29 news report that, “FOI is not supported by Malacañang.”
Freedominfo.org also cited remarks made by FOI bill co-author Rep. Walden Bello. “I don’t really know what Malacañang priorities are at this point. In fact, I am not sure if the House leadership wants this bill to get through.”
Yet still a third story to the last raised a challenge to House lawmakers and Aquino: Pass the FOI bill.
In a statement, youth leaders of the University of the Philippines (UP) DARE Movement said: “Higit kailan, napapanahon na ang pagpasa ng Freedom of Information Bill na matagal nang iniwan sa lugmok na sitwasyon ng ating mga mambabatas.”
“Bilang mga Iskolar ng Bayan at progresibong mamamayan, nanawagan kami kay Pangulong Aquino na iwaksi na ang pagpapabaya at bagkus unahin ang interes ng sambayanan,” the student leaders said.