• FOI needs compelling public opinion to take flight

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    A heavily favorable public opinion for the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is needed to steer its passage into law, FOI authors said.

    Reps. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list, Walden Bello of Akbayan party-list and Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao made the pronouncement in the aftermath of the formation of the Technical Working Group (TWG) which seeks to consolidate the 14 versions of FOI bills.

    The TWG group for FOI will be headed by Rep. Jorge Almonte of Misamic Occidental, also the chairman of the House Committee on Public Information. There is no definite date yet for the TWG meeting.

    “There is no timeline for a TWG report to be finished. The progress of the bill will now depend again on public pressure since TWG is normally undertaken in an exclusive venue and not in a committee hearing which is open to public,” Tugna, the House Deputy Majority Leader, said in a text message.

    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.

    Bello, for his part, noted that the favorable public opinion for the FOI should be palpable enough that the President will endorse its passage.

    “FOI’s progress depends on Malacanang. The public, civil society and media must redouble their efforts to convince the President [to endorse the FOI’s passage],” Bello argued.

    “The Chairman of the Commitee of Public Information and the Speaker may be disposed towards it, but without Malacanang supporting it, it won’t move,” Bello added.

    Despite such uncertainties, Baguilat would rather be optimistic.

    “I’m confident that Congressman Almonte will adhere to our request to have at least one TWG meeting before the scheduled regular hearing,” Baguilat said in closing.

    The FOI has been pending before the House of Representatives for a decade. LLANESCA T. PANTI

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