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Philippines FOI bill stalled at critical stage

UPDATE: FOI: foiled again (CMFR, 11 December 2012)

(CMFR/IFEX) - 14 November 2012 - BAM goes the Freedom of Information Bill.

BATTERY, ASSAULT, and MURDER - this was what happened to the FOI bill today (Nov. 14) at the hearing of the Committee on Public Information of the House of Representatives.

The FOI bill is dead in the 15th Congress.

By ensuring that no committee report will be approved in today's hearing, the House Committee on Public Information has for all intents and purposes left no time for any FOI measure to get approved in the 15th Congress.

Committee Chair Ben Evardone was the biggest disappointment of all. His error: a dismal failure of leadership.

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.

In effect, Antonino made certain that the committee's time was wasted on his redundant insistence on having his complaint heard. In truth, 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.

In the end the committee lost time to discuss any substantive issues on the FOI, particularly the contents of the bill.

And 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.

What happened today was just the final blow delivered by Evardone and Antonino, which left the rest of the committee members uncannily helpless to stop the slaughter of the FOI.

By all indications, the conspiracy to kill the FOI bill had commenced much 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.

The President's Liberal Party allies in the House, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez III, did not move either. They neither pushed nor nudged the bill to fruition. Evardone did not call committee hearings until today.

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.

Signed by:

Attorney Nepomuceno Malaluan
Institute for Freedom of Information
Co-convenor, Right to Know Right Now! Coalition

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

Jenina Joy Chavez
Southeast Asia Monitor for Action

Clark Militante
Focus on the Global South

Mary Anne Manahan
Save Agrarian Reform Alliance

Attorney Eirene Aguila

Dr. Leah Paquiz
Ang Nars

Violeta Fernandez
Basic Education Sector Teachers Federation

Annie Enriquez Geron
Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK)

Jun Aguilar
Elso Cabangon
Filipino Migrant Workers Group

Joshua Mata
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)

Reylynne dela Paz
Access to Information Network

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