MANILA, Philippines - Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, Liberal Party lawmakers, and President Benigno Aquino have killed the freedom of information bill (FOI) in the 15th Congress, advocates said Wednesday.
They said that Evardone, who chairs the House Committee on Public Information, led the FOI's death by ensuring that no committee report will be approved in Tuesday's hearing.
"The FOI bill is dead, actually murdered on its tracks. Its butchers? The lackadaisical Evardone. The mindlessly perorating Antonino. The President and his flaccid support. Belmonte, Gonzalez, and the Liberal Party leaders of the House, by propping and blessing Evardone’s duplicity on the FOI bill," a statement from the FOI proponents said.
The statement was signed by lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan of the Institute for Freedom of Information and co-convenor of Right to Know Right Now! Coalition; The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility; and several other organizations.
They accused Evardone of being the biggest disappointment in the push for an FOI law.
"First, Evardone enrolled the FOI bill as the last of eight items on the committee’s agenda. When the committee finally discussed the FOI bill, Evardone next allowed Rep. Rodolfo Antonino to hijack most of the proceedings and perorate endlessly on how Antonino’s right of reply bill was not considered by the committee’s Technical Working Group (TWG) led by FOI proponent Rep. Erin Tanada," the statement said.
Evardone has denied derailing the FOI bill's passage.
He said he only scheduled the discussion of 3 other bills to finally get them out of the way.
The FOI advocates also singled out Antonino, whom they accused of deliberately taking up the committee's time. "Antonino had already raised the very same issue at the last committee hearing in March. In fact, Antonino’s complaint was already resolved in that last hearing."
"When a motion was made and seconded to put the consolidated bill to a vote, Antonino, who used up most of the committee’s time to complain about the TWG, promptly moved to adjourn the committee hearing, citing a technicality which was sustained by the committee chairman," the FOI advocates said.
They believe that efforts to kill the FOI bill had started earlier.
"President Benigno S. Aquino III led the battery and assault on FOI, with his mindless 'concerns' about the bill. In January 2012, at the height of the Corona impeachment trial, he all too suddenly endorsed the bill, albeit in a few perfunctory press statements only. But in the next eight months, nothing more was heard from him by way of real proof of endorsement of the bill," they said.
They said Aquino's Liberal Party allies in the House, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, did not move to push for the bill.
The Palace on Wednesday denied lobbying against the bill.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Palace officials have spoken to Evardone a number of times and that the Palace was hoping for a wrap-up of the committee deliberations on the bill.