Evardone explains resistance to FOI bill

By Kathlyn dela Cruz, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jan 23 2013 06:17 PM | Updated as of Jan 24 2013 05:31 AM

MANILA -- Eastern Samar Representative and House committee on public information chairman Ben Evardone on Wednesday said one of the reasons why the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill has yet to be passed is because some lawmakers fear it may be abused.

Speaking with radio dzMM, Evardone said that while most of the congressmen seem to be in favor of the FOI bill, some lawmakers have expressed concerns that information obtained via an FOI law could be used against them.

"In general, okay sila. Meron lang silang mga pangamba dun sa posibleng abusuhuin nito lalo na't ngayong papasok na ang campaign period. Baka 'yung mga katunggali nila gamitin ito laban sa kanila." he said.

"'Yung fear ng mga kasamahan natin, ng ibang sektor na talagang abusihin ito. Palagay ko 'yun po 'yan," he added.

The lower House has repeatedly been accused of dragging its feel on the bill.

Members of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition on Monday walked out of the House of Representatives after finding out that the sponsorship of the FOI committee report was not included in the House's order of business.

On Tuesday, the sponsorship was again delayed after Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas insisted that a local matter be tackled first before the FOI bill.

Cagas also said there was lack of quorum.

During the radio interview, Evardone also denied derailing the process in the plenary. He added that he was already prepared for his sponsorship speech when Cagas spoke.

"'Di ko naman po siya masisi dahil alam niyo po kami, all politics is local. Lahat ng interes ng distrito namin 'yun ang uunahin namin," he said.

Evardone also said they still had to tackle at least 15 versions of the bill in the lower House. He noted that two of the versions also contain controversial provisions.

Rep. Rodolfo Antonino's version contains a right of reply provision, while Rep. Pedro Romualdo proposes that private entities and corporations be included under the bill, Evardone said.

Atty. Nepo Malaluan, co-convenor of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition, said the way to address the issue would be through committee hearings, which he said were being delayed.

"'Yung pagkakaiba nabigyang-daan sana 'yan sa committee hearings. Pero ilang committe hearings ang cinancel eh," he said.

'Malacañang's version not final'

Meanwhile, Evardone also addressed Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño's concern over the Palace's version of the FOI bill which Casiño claimed limits public's access to information.

Casiño, along with fellow leftist lawmakers, on Monday withdrew authorship of the FOI bill, saying that the provisions proposed by the Palace are "vague" and "open to abuse" and should therefore be amended.

Evardone said it was never the intention of the House to take the Malacañang's version as the final version of the FOI bill.

"Hindi naman ibig sabihin na kukunin namin lahat 'yun. Wala namang sinabi ang Malacañang na 'ilagay niyo lahat 'yan.' Wala namang ganun," he said.

Casiño said he now doubts that the bill will be passed before the Congress adjourns for the upcoming mid-term elections.

He said it seems that the Congress is not prioritizing the FOI bill since the Palace has not endorsed it as an urgent matter.

"Sa Kongreso, walang nangyayari ng walang basbas o pagtulak ng administrasyon... Ang problema nung nanumpa si Presidente Aquino, ang dati niyang promise na isa ito sa uunahin niya medyo nawala." Casiño said.