PROVING TRUE TO ITS WORD, the Philippine Senate on Monday passed on third and final reading its version of the Freedom of Information bill.
According to National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chairperson Rowena Paraan, twenty-two (not 12 as earlier reported) Senators voted in favor of the measure, with no opposition or objection from the floor. The bill establishes a system by which ordinary citizens and journalists can access vital government information and documents. The Constitution guarantees full transparency and access of information that is in the public’s interest, but the implementation of this guarantee has been spotty at best because of the lack of an enabling law.
The Senate version of the FOI integrates elements from previous FOI bills that failed to make it through Congress, and inputs and proposed amendments from Malacanang.
While the Senate breezed through the FOI, the House version continues to meander through the congressional maze. Also on Monday, the technical working group of the House committee on public information and mass media met to fashion a consolidated measure that would take into account the different versions of the FOI.
“The real fight remains in the House of Representatives,” Paraan said in a Facebook post.
photo courtesy of Sonny Fernandez
Among those invited to the TWG meeting were representatives from the Right to Know, Right Now! coalition, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the National Security Council, and Malacanang as represented by Manuel Quezon III, Undersecretary of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning.
FOI advocates note that until Congress acts on its own version of the FOI, the Senate’s speedy action will be for naught. Both chambers need to pass their respective versions of the bill, which will then be consolidated by a bicameral conference committee. The final report of the committee is then ratified separately by the two chambers, before being signed into law by the President.
Historically, the House has always been the battleground for the passage of the FOI, a measure that has failed to get through the congressional wringer for a decade and a half already. While the Senate generally passes its version of the FOI without a hitch, legislators from the lower house have consistently opposed the bill, saying it provides more power to an abusive press.