The authors of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill have warned their colleagues against delaying the FOI measure amid the high mistrust of the public on lawmakers due to the P10 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scamand the P900 million Malampaya fund mess.
Reps. Arlene Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands, Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao and Winston Castelo of Quezon City expressed such sentiments a day after the House Committee on Public Information chaired by Rep. Jorge Almonte of Misamis Occidental agreed to form a Techinical Working Group to reconcile the 14 FOI bills.
“With the committee forming a technical working group (TWG) on the FOI Bill, I am hopeful that we can efficiently tackle the measure in order to finally enact a law that will enable the people’s constitutionally guaranteed right to information. The Committee must act decisively and do away with delays,” Bag-ao said in a statement.
The FOI bill implements the right of the people to information on matters of public concern and the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest thru mandatory posting of wealth statement of public officials and providing access to information being used for decision making or project management, including transcripts and minutes of official meetings, provided that there is a legitimate request.
“FOI is not solely a means for people to know if we are doing something wrong. Instead, let us look at it as a chance for us to enable people to see the things that we are doing right. The time for FOI is now,” Bag-ao added.
After the TWG for the FOI was formed, Almonte was named the head of the TWG panel for the FOI. Almonte, however, is yet to decide when will the TWG panel will convene and argued that lawmakers have other things to attend to during the recess from October 24 to November 16.
Baguilat and Castelo, for their part, are not done in pressing Almonte to set a date for the convening of the TWG panel on FOI just yet.
“Hearings are rarely conducted during recess because this is a time to visit constituencies. But given the urgency of passing FOI, the TWG must be convened to consolidate the FOI bills as soon as possible. I’m hoping we could convince him to set at least one TWG meeting before the [November] 26th,” Baguilat said in a separate text message.
“The setting of date would surely be a guarantee on the commitment of the Chairman that discussions on the FOI bill would move forward. We will not be perturbed and will continue to be vigilant. It is a temporary setback. Now that public distrust is in high level, the passage of the bill should not be delayed,” Castelo added.
The FOI bill was only ratification short of becoming a law in the 14th Congress. During the 15th Congress, it was sponsored before the plenary but never reached the period of debates.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd promised to push for the passage of the FOI under his term when he was a Senator and a Presidential candidate of the Liberal Party during the summer of 2010.
LLANESCA T. PANTI