FOI bill spooks politicos

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 05 2012 10:28 AM | Updated as of Jun 06 2012 12:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - As the Senate fast-tracks the approval of the Freedom of Information bill in its plenary, its counterpart version in the Lower House is still at the public information committee because of politicians’ insistence to include the right of reply provision.

Committee chairman Ben Evardone, a former journalist turned Eastern Samar congressman, said: “Proponents of the right of reply are insisting to include this provision in the FOI and some are asking for safeguards against possible abuse of the right under FOI.”

Evardone hinted the House version of the FOI bill maybe watered down. “I'm asking all stakeholders and proponents to keep an open mind on a possible compromise bill without surrendering the very essence of the right to information,” he said.

He added: “I'm trying to come up with an acceptable formula on the conflicting provisions of the FOI and the right of reply without compromising the letter and intent of the right of the people to information. I'm also trying to address the concerns of my colleagues against possible abuse of this right under the FOI.”

The Freedom of Information Bill allows speedier access to information and identifies a list of documents of high public interest to be disclosed without need for an official request.

Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo and Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino earlier pushed for the consolidation of separate measures on the right of reply to the FOI Bill. Both bills makes the right of reply of public officials mandatory for the media.

Evardone said the House has 15 FOI bills that have conflicting provisions. He added that the FOI bill will be finalized after President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).

“I'm confident that an acceptable formula will have been finalized by that time. The other contentious issues like national security matters, privileged communications, among others, would also have been addressed by that time,’ he said.

Evardone predicts that about one or two committee meetings would be enough to come up with a committee report.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III said on Twitter Monday that he is ready to defend the bill at the committee level.

“We were hoping to have it deliberated on and approved in the committee but nothing happened for the last 3 weeks,” he said.

The Right to Know, Right Now Coalition also reiterated its pitch for the FOI measure.

“It is in this context that we reiterate our call for Rep. Ben Evardone to perform his duty as committee chairman, and immediately call a hearing to resolve the remaining contentious issues in the committee, and submit a committee report for plenary action,” the group said.