• FOI gathers dust at House

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    The House of Representatives is buying time to delay the passage of the long-overdue Freedom of Information (FOI) bill as the committee on public information still refused to specify target dates for the controversial measure.

    In a text message, Rep. Jorge Almonte of Misamis Occidental, Committee on Public Information chair, refused to give a target date for the bill to pass in the committee level because it has several versions, 22 as of date.

    “One cannot set the date when meeting of minds on the numerous FOI bills will happen,” Almonte said. “The rules of the House speak of ensuring ‘that the measures and their corresponding committee reports are carefully crafted and faithfully express the ideas, sentiments and consensus of the committee relative to said measures and reports.’ To attain these would mean we have to conduct our business accordingly.”

    The committee’s technical working group (TWG) in charge of consolidating the different versions of the bill is yet to meet on Thursday, for the first time this year, and will decide when the consolidated version will be presented.

    Since the 16th Congress opened in July 2013, the Committee on Public Information only convened thrice—in October, November and January last week and none of these meetings yielded results.

    The TWG formed in October was supposed to work on the bill during the Congress’ Halloween break but failed to merge the measure’s several versions. When the committee reconvened in November, it rescheduled the FOI bill hearing to February, but last week, it did not include the FOI bill in the agenda.

    Despite the turtle-pace progress of the bill in the chamber, some administration lawmakers are still hopeful that the bill will progress and said that asking the House
    leadership to replace Almonte is still far from happening.

    “We do not see the need yet [of replacing Almonte],” said Rep. Gustavo Tambunting of Parañaque City.

    In a news article by the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism, Rep. Emmeline Aglipay of Diwa Party-list was quoted as saying that the main hurdle of the FOI bill is the committee chairman that was supposed to endorse the bill in the plenary for the deliberation.

    “The most important hurdle now is the committee chairman himself, who is also chairing the TWG,” Aglipay said.

    House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. earlier said that FOI bill is not a priority and Charter change must progress first than the equally controversial measure.

    Meanwhile, Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands, a member of the committee, said that they intend to come up with a consolidated version next week, February 14.

    She said FOI bill authors have been conducting informal discussions so they can just make
    amendments during the meeting.

    “The February 14 deadline cannot be delayed for another time,” said Bag-ao, one of the authors of FOI bill.

    “We will see if nothing happens by February 14, we will make sure that we’re able to present to the mother committee a proposal, that’s our original plan, unless in discussion of TWG there is very substantial topic that needs a further discussion,” the lawmaker from Liberal Party said.

    Tambunting, on the other hand, urged the committee to simply adopt the bill’s “compromise” version drafted in the 15th Congress to fast track the measure.

    But Almonte said that it would be impossible since there are other concerns that authors raise in their own versions.

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