Time again for FOI bill
It’s that time of year again to get things moving and for people to work for the passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill that had long been deliberately delayed, and then killed.
In November 2012, in a last-ditch effort, groups marched to and rallied in Mendiola in the vain hope that the FOI bill would be passed after years of languishing in the desert despite its advocates’ valiant efforts.
I joined the marchers then and we shouted ourselves hoarse with “FOI, isabatas, isabatas! FOI, ipasa, ipasa!” We hoped that our voices would reach the ears of the people in Malacañang. We lighted candles that symbolized our undiminished hope. We wore T-shirts with the message “Right to Know Right Now” (R2KRN).
Days later, the FOI bill was slaughtered in the 15th Congress. I wrote about the conspiracy to kill it. Let me quote a portion of what I wrote in 2012:
“The bad news: The FOI bill is dead in the 15th Congress. BAM! for the Freedom of Information bill! BAM—as in battery, assault and murder. This was how FOI advocates present at the hearing summarized what happened.
“The FOI bill is dead, actually murdered in its tracks. Its butchers? The lackadaisical (Ben) Evardone. The mindlessly perorating (Rodolfo) Antonino. The President and his flaccid support. (Sonny) Belmonte, (Neptali) Gonzalez III, and the Liberal Party leaders of the House, by propping and blessing Evardone’s duplicity on the FOI bill.
“This series of unfortunate events was witnessed by concerned groups and individuals lead by lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan of the Institute for Freedom of Information and R2KRN Coalition, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Southeast Asia Monitor for Action, Access to Information Network and many others.”
The news reports at that time on how the hearing proceeded showed the deliberate efforts to shoot and make the bill fall dead in the water. The delaying tactics, the diarrhea of useless words at the 11th hour, killed the patient which was, by that time, already in the throes of death.
The FOI bill is feared by the powerful and guilty; if passed, it will allow the public to get information on government transactions and documents that were once inaccessible or held in secret. The bill will allow for more transparency, curb corruption and promote good governance.
Who’s afraid of FOI? Is there hope in the 16th Congress?
The R2KRN coalition is again rallying the public to create a groundswell of support for FOI. The P10-billion pork barrel scam that shocked the nation in 2013, the paper trail, the truckload of documents that may be evidence of conspiracy to commit plunder by corrupt government officials and the Napoleses of this world, are just the tip of the iceberg that can be further surfaced in the icy waters with the help of an FOI law.
There was news the other day about Congress showing eagerness to tackle the FOI bills that have been filed, with Speaker Belmonte vowing to get one passed. But as Vince Lazatin of the R2KRN coalition said at the press conference on FOI last Monday, “Read their hips, not their lips.” Which is to say, are they walking their talk? Or is it all lip service?
At the open forum, I asked (short of suggesting) about “extreme measures” that R2KRN could resort to. Well, there is quite a number. But first let us see the moving hips of the members of the committee on public information under Rep. Jorge Almonte. Will he set the technical working group into motion? Or will we see another serial killing?
R2KRN presented a timetable for passage, status, obstacles and what is being done. The timetable shows that NOW is the time to start moving. The first regular session (July 2013 to June 2014) is when the Senate (no problem with the Senate’s version) should have passed the bill on third reading (around March 2014); the House should have approved the committee report. May to June 2014 would be the time for sponsorship in the plenary and the period of interpellation.
The second regular session (July 2014 to June 2015) is the most crucial time. The bicam conference and bicam report ratification should have been done so that by the end of the second session (June 2015), the FOI bill should have been passed.
The third regular session (July 2015 to June 2016) is the “red zone” that should be avoided because this is when the budget is taken up and everyone is preoccupied with the May 2016 presidential election.
So if the FOI bill is not passed during the second regular session, it will be in the ICU or morgue in the third. As in the past, we may again hear the fake sad refrain echoing in Congress: “We did our best.”
This time, we are happy to learn that the pesky “right to reply” clause is no longer in the bills filed but will have to reincarnate on its own in a separate bill.
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Members of the class suit against the Marcos estate will receive their second compensation starting Jan. 27 until March 21. Robert A. Swift, lead counsel in the Marcos human rights litigation in Hawaii is in town to personally distribute the checks. Distribution will begin in Mindanao, followed by the Visayas and Luzon. The National Capital Region (Metro Manila) will be the last. This is the reverse of the first distribution in 2011, cocounsel Rod C. Domingo said. Sending notices to and contacting those who have been displaced by the recent natural calamities in the Visayas may prove difficult, but all efforts are being exerted.
Swift and Domingo will meet with human rights advocates and some representatives of the claimants in simple cocktails this evening. I will be there.
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