January 20, 2014 · Posted in: 2013 Elections, Access to Information, Civil Society, Congress Watch, Freedom of Information, General, Governance, Human Rights, Local Government, Media, Money Politics, Online Research
A PROPONENT of the Freedom of Information bill in the lower house today said the main hurdle of the long-delayed measure is the head of the committee that is supposed to endorse the measure to the House floor.
Rep. Emmeline Aglipay (DIWA Party-List), also a member of the House committee on public information, said FOI proponents in the House of Representatives were dismayed with the delay of the FOI bill in the committee.
Aglipay said committee chairman Rep. Jorge Almonte has not set any date for the committee to discuss the FOI again. Neither has Almonte calendared a meeting of the technical working group (TWG) that is supposed to hammer out a consolidated version of the bill for the committee.
In the last committee hearing in 2013, Almonte’s committee formed the TWG and set a deadline for the TWG to draft a consolidated version by the middle of February this year. That’s less than a month away, and yet the TWG has not even met yet, Aglipay said.
“The most important hurdle now is the committee chairman himself, who is also chairing the TWG,” Aglipay said during a press conference Monday by the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition, a network of pro-FOI advocates.
“I was very disappointed, it seems he does not want to discuss the bill,” Aglipay added.
Coalition convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan said the challenge now was “how to convey the sense of urgency on the part of the citizens for this bill to move.”
Malaluan said it is critical for the bill to be passed by the committee and reported on the plenary by June this year, if it is to have a chance to get through the legislature during the 16th Congress. Malaluan said if the bill is not reported on the floor by the start of the second regular session of Congress, then chances of the bill getting passed gets dimmer by the month.
Reached for comment by the PCIJ, Almonte said he will schedule a meeting by the TWG for the first week of February.
At the same time Almonte lashed out at FOI advocates in the committee whom he said had forced him to agree to a February deadline for the draft committee report. Almonte claimed that the committee was also busy consolidating other bills not related to the FOI. He said the authors of these bills would complain if he does not act on these bills immediately.
“That is the trouble with them (FOI advocates),” Almonte said in a phone interview. “Kasi I was outvoted at the time we created the TWG. Now they are imposing on the chair a timeline which is not fair because the members of the committee have other concerns too.”
Almonte apparently refers to the proposal by FOI advocates in the committee to set a February deadline for a working FOI draft by the TWG, which was approved by the committee through a vote. Some committee members had opposed the deadline, saying this was short-cutting the process.
Almonte also refused to give a timetable for the committee’s consideration of the bill, saying it all depended “on how members of the TWG react to the other versions of the bills that we will reconcile.”
In the press conference of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition, coalition convenor Atty. Malaluan said there are now 19 FOI-related bills pending before Almonte’s committee, although most of the bills are similar in nature.
However, Malaluan said FOI advocates are concerned with version of the FOI bill filed by Rep. Magnolia Antonino-Nadres that exempts the statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) of officials from the coverage of the FOI.
As well, Malaluan expressed concern over Malacanang’s “hands off” and “Up to Congress” position on the FOI. This is compounded by “the lack of commitment on the part of the House leadership and the committee chairman to pass the bill.”
“We do not see any member of the Executive championing the FOI in the legislature,” Malaluan said.