THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (FOI) bill breezed through second reading in the Senate on Monday, drawing cheers from the bill’s advocates over the chamber’s speedy action on the measure.
Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the committee on public information, said she expects the measure to be passed on third and final reading next week, or before the Senate goes on recess.
Members of the Right to Know, Right Now! coalition, a network of 150 groups pushing for the passage of the FOI, lauded the Senate leadership for its speedy action on the bill, and for fulfilling its commitment to transparency and accountability. (The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism is an active member of the coalition.)
At the same time the network’s members said they were shifting gears for a concerted action in the House of Representatives, historically the chamber which has been reluctant to pass the FOI. Several versions of the FOI bill are still being deliberated on by the technical working group of the House committee on public information, and no clear timetable yet for a consolidated version of the bill.
Once the TWG fashions a consolidated version of the FOI, the measure will be voted on by the House committee on public information. Only when that is done can the committee present the bill to the House floor for deliberation. A bicameral conference committee from both chambers of Congress will then fashion a unified version of the bill based on the Senate’s and the House’s version of the FOI bill.
Advocates however are still concerned with the slow pace of the bill in the lower chamber. The advocates are worried that the House leadership’s declared focus on charter change and the passage of the BangsaMoro Basic Law could place the FOI in the backburner.
In a letter addressed to Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, Majority Leader Alan Peter S. Cayetano and Senator Poe, the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition (R2KRN) congratulated and thanked the Senate for its quick action. “No doubt the prompt passage of this long-awaited measure in the Senate has been made possible by the dedicated and decisive work of the committee chairperson with the strong support and commitment by the Senate leadership,” the network’s letter read.
The coalition said the Senate’s swift action is important in that it “provides the momentum and focus to facilitate commensurate action by the House and the Executive on the FOI bill.”
The FOI bill that the Senate passed is a consensus bill, integrating key amendments proposed by Malacañang to address its earlier concerns, the further improvements introduced by the committee chairperson based on (Poe’s) own reflections and as a result of the committee process, and the refinements and clarifications introduced by other members of the Senate in plenary through interpellation and individual amendments.
The Right to Know, Right Now! coalition’s letter to the Senate leadership follows:
HON. FRANKLIN M. DRILON
HON. ALAN PETER COMPAÑERO S. CAYETANO
HON. GRACE L. POE
Chairperson, Committee on Public Information and Mass Media
Dear Senator Drilon, Senator Cayetano, and Senator Poe:
We in the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition congratulate and thank the Senate for its approval on Second Reading of the FOI Bill (on 03 March 2014), in time for approval on Third Reading before session adjourns on March 15. No doubt the prompt passage of this long-awaited measure in the Senate has been made possible by the dedicated and decisive work of the Committee Chairperson with the strong support and commitment by the Senate leadership.
At the House of Representatives, we are happy to note that the FOI bill is advancing in the committee. A technical working group is working on the consolidation of the different bills, and is now on Section 7 of the 25 Sections of the template/reference bill. We are working closely with FOI champions in the House for sustained push for the Bill.
Given our past experience, however, we know that the House process has to speed up for the FOI bill to have a fair chance of becoming a law. With the slow pace it is now taking, it is at risk of being overtaken by the emerging priority of the House leadership to push for Charter Change, and the impending push by the Executive of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
It is in this context that the Senate’s speedy action assumes even greater significance. It provides the momentum and focus to facilitate commensurate action by the House and the Executive on the FOI Bill.
We congratulate Senator Grace Poe, Chairperson of the Committee on Public Information, for her solid work in keeping intact the delicate balance among the various legitimate interests, and for her able defense of the bill in plenary. The FOI bill that the Senate passed is a consensus bill. It integrates the key amendments proposed by Malacañang to address its earlier concerns, the further improvements introduced by the Committee Chairperson based on her own reflections and as a result of the committee process, and the refinements and clarifications introduced by other members of the Senate in plenary through interpellation and individual amendments. It also builds on the work of previous Congresses. On the part of the coalition, we take pride in having actively and constructively engaged the process, pushing even further with the filing of our own People’s FOI Bill through Indirect Initiative.
Animated by our determined fight for the full operation of the people’s right to information, and our aspiration for responsible, rights-based governance and equitable and sustainable development, we commit our continued cooperation with the Senate and House champions until the People’s FOI is enacted into law.
Institute for Freedom of Information
Ana Maria R. Nemenzo
Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO)
Peter Angelo V. Perfecto
Makati Business Club
Transparency and Accountability Network
Public Services Labor Independent Conferederation
Clarissa V. Militante
Focus on the Global South – Philippines
Eirene Jhone Aguila
Aksyong Kabayanihan para sa Organisadong Pagbabago (ANGKOP)
Ariel C. Sebellino
Philippine Press Institute; Philippine Communication Society
Ramon R. Tuazon; Madeline B. Quiamco
Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication
Leonor M. Briones
Social Watch – Philippines
Isagani R. Serrano
Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement
Partido ng Manggagawa
Max M. de Mesa
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
Romeo C. Dongeto
Philippine Legislators” Committee on Population and Development
Sixto Donato C. Macasaet
Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO)
Allan Pangilinan; AJ Montesa
FOI Youth Initiative (FYI)
Norman V. Cabrera
Bukidnon Press Club
EU-ASEAN FTA Campaign Network
Freedom from Debt Coalition – Southern Mindanao
Tambuyog Development Center
Alyansa Tigil Mina
Mary Ann Fuertes
Interface Development Interventions (IDIS)
Filipino Migrant Workers Group
Gerry F. Rivera
PAL Employees’ Association (PALEA)
Corazon Valdez Fabros
Stop the War Coalition
Center for Community Journalism and Development
Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHILRIGHTS)
Dagohoy P. Magaway
Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spray (MAAS)
Starjoan D. Villanueva
Alternative Forum for Research in Mindanao, Inc. (AFRIM)
Adelina Sevilla Alvarez
Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines (DRRNetPhils)
Lorenzo R. Tañada III
Former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives
International Studies Department, Miriam College
Angelina E. Borican
College of Communication
Polytechnic University of the Philippines
Gregorio T. Mariano, Jr.
Dual Fil/Am Citizen
BroadJourn Track Coordinator
St Scholastica’s College
Ateneo School of Government
Action for Economic Reforms