THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON public information and mass media has given its technical working group (TWG) only until the middle of February to consolidate at least 19 different versions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill for the consideration of the committee.

The self-imposed deadline has heartened proponents of the FOI bill, who are hoping that the 16th Congress would act faster on the measure than the previous Congress. The FOI failed to make it to the plenary in the 15th Congress because of long delays in the committee on public information and mass media.

With the February deadline, the technical working group could have at least five meetings to hammer out a consolidated version of the FOI to present to the committee for consideration.

But during the first public hearing on the FOI under the 16th Congress, several legislators already made clear which issues could be the sticky points in the deliberations.


While DIWA Party-List Rep. Emmeline Aglipay moved to give the TWG only until February to hammer out a consolidated bill, Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat and Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia opposed the deadline, saying this was like “putting the cart before the horse.”

Garcia and Lobregat argued that the committee must first constitute the whole TWG before coming up with a working deadline. Interestingly, both Garcia and Lobregat emphasized several times during the public hearing that while the press may be given the right to information, the press should also be constantly reminded of its “responsibilities.” In fact, when the committee deliberated on another bill by Rep. Christopher Co declaring Nov. 23 as Philippine Press Freedom Day, both Garcia and Lobregat asked that a phrase be inserted in the bill reminding the press that its freedom “was not absolute.”

Consideration of that bill was deferred to a future date.

In addition, one of the 19 bills that the TWG would have to consolidate is House Bill 1940 filed by Nueva Ecija Rep. Magnolia Rose Antonino Nadres.

Nadres’ bill exempts the statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) of government officials from the proposed FOI law. All government officials and employees are required by the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees to submit their SALN before April 30 every year. That same law requires that the SALN be made available to the public.

The SALN is also used by journalists as a tracker document in order to determine whether a public officer has been amassing wealth over the years.


However, Nadres argued that the SALN contains what she calls private, not public information, including the address of the government official or employee, as well as the names of the family members. Nadres argued that this information is no longer public information, but information that is protected by privacy rights.

Nadres is the daughter of former Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, who was criticized during the 15th Congress for allegedly delaying the proceedings in the House committee on public information by insisting on a right of reply provision in the FOI bill. Antonino was on his last term in the 15th Congress, and was succeeded by his daughter Nadres.

Nadres, Garcia, and Lobregat however told the committee that they all agree on the need for an FOI bill. The three however cautioned against passing just any FOI law that would not have the proper safeguards.

Still, Right to Know Right Now Coalition Convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan said he was happy that the first committee hearing got off to a good start, with a fixed timeframe for the TWG. Malaluan said this was much better than the 15th Congress, when the committee dawdled until the last minute when it was already too late.

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