White flag raised on FOI bill

Posted at 02/01/13 7:52 AM

MANILA, Philippines - There’s no more time, no quorum, and no presidential certification.

With these factors lacking, the sponsor of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in the House of Representatives has given up on the measure.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, said even if the bill is approved on second reading next week, three more session days are needed to have the measure approved on third and final reading.

The measure, which is strongly supported by various organizations, including business groups, was finally introduced in plenary on Monday to start the debates and possibly the inclusion of amendments.

But Congress has only three session days left next week before it goes on a break for the campaign period.

“No more, the white flag’s raised already,” Evardone told reporters on Wednesday shortly after session was suspended until next week. “There’s no quorum and it’s unlikely that they’ll show up in June,” he said, referring to the brief resumption of session before the 15th Congress finally adjourns.

The group Youth Advocates of the Freedom of Information bill (YFI) slammed Evardone for his failure to conduct hearings on the bill at the start of the 15th Congress in 2010.

“It was ‘Doctor’ Evardone who declared that the FOI bill was ‘dead’ due to lack of time and quorum in the House of Representatives. However, it is clear that the main cause was ‘legislative malpractice’ on his part,” YFI convenor Carlo Brolagda said.

“If we look back, it was Evardone who didn’t call for enough committee hearings for the bill to be tackled at the soonest possible time when the 15th Congress began,” he said.

With three remaining session days left, the group conceded the FOI bill could no longer be passed unless President Aquino certifies it as urgent.

YFI said the FOI bill was part of Aquino’s campaign promises in 2010.

“We will continue to fight for this,” Brolagda said.

“Our democracy will remain incomplete without a law on freedom of information. We young people will be persistent and steadfast in our struggle for a government that is open and honest to the people it serves.”

Evardone, however, dismissed criticisms that he was among those sitting on the transparency bill, which is opposed by President Aquino.

He said he waited for some time for comments from various sectors, and that the Department of National Defense and even the National Archives want the measure blocked.

He said 117 out of 284 lawmakers in the chamber signed the bill.

Evardone said it appeared that support for the FOI bill in the chamber was not solid, “otherwise they should have showed up and pushed for it.”

While most House members support the FOI bill, critics said they fear antagonizing Malacañang in pushing for its passage. – Helen Flores, Celso Amo