Ex-newsmen, FOI ‘killers’

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Before he became the head of the Government Service Insurance System and other government corporations, and then representative of Quezon City’s fourth congressional district, then QC mayor and congressman again, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. was a newspaperman.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone used to be a reporter of Ang Pahayagang Malaya who covered Congress. He later became a trusted man of Oscar Orbos when the latter was congressman, executive secretary and transportation secretary. He later became governor of his home province, Eastern Samar.

Belmonte and I were together in the QC School Board—he as chair and I as board member representing the QC Public School Teachers Association. For 10 years, I also served as a public elementary school teacher in his congressional district. Ben and I were together in the editorial department of Malaya during the dark years of martial law and for several years after the People Power Revolution.

I am happy to have been associated with them and I am thankful for their rise in the fields of local governance and legislation. However, I am disappointed with them in one thing: for being two of the “killers” of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. It is a sad irony that two lawmakers who used to be in the Fourth Estate would lead the move to stall a piece of legislation long overdue.

Reports have it that Evardone is “dribbling” the bill in the House committee on public information, which he chairs. On the other hand, Speaker Belmonte, who could easily steer the approval of the bill in the House if he wanted to, considering his grand coalition of different political parties and groups, has chosen to defer legislative action on the bill because, according to him, there are still issues that “can be hammered out in a caucus of the leaders and members of the ruling coalition” in the House.

It may be noted that this bill, once enacted into law, can help curb and deter the commission of graft and corruption by unscrupulous government “servants.”

It’s unthinkable that the Philippines, known for its devotion to the cause of rights and freedoms that are essential to democracy, is still in the dark as to when restrictions to access to information will become a thing of the past. It may interest—or perhaps shame—Belmonte, Evardone and their cohorts in the “killing” of the FOI bill that Liberia’s House of Representatives passed its FOI law as early as July 22, 2010.

Likewise, the 360-member Nigerian National Assembly has enacted an FOI law which aims to “give members of the press corps and the general public unfettered access to public records.”

The Kapisanan ng mga Gurong Retirado (Kaguro) joins the hordes of individuals, institutions and organizations in their demand for the “right to know, right now!”—EUSEBIO S. SAN DIEGO, founder, Kaguro and former president, Quezon City Public School Teachers Association,   essandiego@ymail.com

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