'FOI bill has good chance of getting approved'

By Janvic Mateo, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 03 2014 03:34 AM | Updated as of Jul 03 2014 11:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - There is an 80 percent chance that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which has been pending for 27 years in the legislative mill, will pass in the 16th Congress, the chairman of the House committee on public information said.

“I’d like to announce it to the public that I am 80 percent sure that we can fashion out an FOI bill in the 16th Congress,” Rep. Jorge Almonte said in a taped interview shown at a town hall meeting at the University of the Philippines yesterday.

Almonte, who pledged support for the bill, said he believes that the FOI measure is a priority of the administration even though it was not designated as urgent by President Aquino.

He noted that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has said that the FOI is one of the major bills currently pending before the House of Representatives.

Proponents and supporters of the FOI bill, including Sen. Grace Poe who led the passage of the Senate version of the measure, attended the town hall meeting that coincided with simultaneous sign-on campaign in many parts of the country.

“This is not an idealist type of law. This is something that we can use,” she said, citing instances in other countries where FOI had become a tool for reforms in the government.

She also assured legislators at the House of Representatives that senators had extensively discussed the issues, particularly on national security and confidentiality, that is delaying passage of the bill.

“FOI will not be a tool for harassment,” she said.

But Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said he has yet to see an “evident, empirical and tangible” proof that Malacañang and the House leadership really support the passage of the FOI bill.

“We have the formal commitment of the House leadership. I respect that. We have word from Malacañang that this is a bill that they support,” he said. “But (as the saying goes) the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Bello noted that the issue of FOI puts at stake the legacy of the administration’s “daang matuwid” (straight path) campaign.

“Until we have FOI, I would say that we do not have a complete democratic country,” he added, stressing that the public must hold Almonte to his word that the bill would pass in this Congress.

For Ramon del Rosario, chairman of the Makati Business Club, the FOI bill will institutionalize the culture of transparency and accountability that has been promoted by the Aquino administration.

“We should be vigilant. We should stay on our toes,” he said, saying there are growing signs that the administration will throw its full support behind the measure.

“Good governance is good economics,” added Del Rosario.

Meanwhile, Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr., who led the sign-on campaign in Ifugao and Baguio yesterday, said he would take part in the National Youth Conference from July 4 to 6 to get the youth to understand the value of an FOI law.

Netizens back FOI

As of yesterday, more than 10,000 people have already signed the online petition (http://chn.ge/1mfoTVA) asking President Aquino and Speaker Belmonte to pass the FOI bill.

Aquino won on a platform of transparency and clean government. This gave us high hopes that the time for the realization of an FOI law has come,” read the petition filed by the group People’s FOI Now in online platform Change.org.

The petitioners noted the need for a law that will give life to the right of citizens to request and be given access to government information beyond what government chooses to disclose proactively.

“An FOI law responds to this by clarifying the scope of and exceptions to available information, by providing the definite procedure for requesting and being given access to information, and by imposing administrative or criminal liability for the violation of a citizen’s right to information,” it added. – With Artemio Dumlao