MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang welcomed Wednesday the move of the House of Representatives committee on public information to approve the Freedom of Information bill sans the controversial "right of reply" provision.
"I-welcome po namin 'yon na nakapasa na. Sinasabi po niyo na ayaw namin ipasa pero now, that it has passed the committee level, it would be discussed in plenary. Pero a number of things will have to be-may mga pinag-uusapan pa ngayon. Tatapusin na ng Bicam ang sin tax, 'yung budget tatapusin na rin, tapos, hopefully, 'yung RH, then 'yung FOI. Titingnan po natin sa plenary kung anong magiging desisyon sa plenary," Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
After almost two years at the House committee of public information, the FOI bill has finally moved forward and is now expected to be debated and tackled in the plenary.
Seventeen members of the committee voted for the consolidated measure drafted by the technical working group headed by Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada.
Three members objected: Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, Rep. Amelita Villarosa and Rep. Lani Meracado Revilla. One member abstained.
Those who objected tried to delay the approval of the bill with lengthy explanations on the need for safeguards, including the right of reply, definition of national security and corruption in the media.
Antonino said that the bill would encourage corruption in the media if the right of reply provision is not included.
However, representatives Tañada, Teddy Baguilat Jr., Walden Bello and Sonny Angara defended the thrust of the bill and said it is first and foremost for the public's right to know. They said the people should be apprised of the budget, programs and contracts that their government is getting into.
The pro-FOI bill lawmakers hailed the passage of the measure at the committee level, but admitted that this is just the first step. They said the victory will only be achieved if it already becomes a law.
The bill will still go through lengthy debates on the floor, a period of amendments, second and third readings.
Minority vows to block bill
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez vowed to block the passage of the FOI bill in plenary debates if a right of reply is not included as a provision as a safeguard from abusive members of the media.
He said the minority believes that without a right of reply, some unscrupulous journalists might take advantage of the situation and come out with one-sided stories that will destroy one's reputation.
He echoed Antonino's argument that safeguards such as a right to reply and a definition of national security must be included in the bill. With reports from Willard Cheng and Jay Ruiz, ABS-CBN News