• House won’t rush passing of FOI bill

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    A Technical Working Group was formed to consolidate the 14 versions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in the House of Representatives but the House Committee on Public Information won’t be giving in to any pressure to pass the FOI measure.

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    These developments transpired during the first organizational meeting of the House Committee on Public Information chaired by Rep. Jorge Almonte of Misamis Occidental province.

    The House Public Info panel adopted the motion by FOI author, Rep. Emmeline Aglipay of Democratic Independent Workers Association party-list, to form a TWG that will consolidate the 14 FOI bills filed in the 16th Congress after Rep. Winston Castelo of Quezon City cited a House rule that allows the House Committee, in consensus with its members, to adopt the previous version of the bill provided that the bill reached the plenary in the previous Congress.

    The FOI 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 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.

    “We should now form a TWG because the FOI bill was only short of a ratification of a Bicameral Report during the 14th Congress [for it to become a law]. In the 15th Congress, the FOI was lengthily discussed in the Committee level before it was sent for second reading approval. We have thoroughly discussed it,” Aglipay said.

    “There is a little need of long discussion on FOI because the versions are not so different from each other. For the sake of brevity and considering the importance of this bill, we can even adapt the version approved [by the Committee]during the 15th Congress,” Castelo added.

    After the Aglipay’s motion was adopted, House Public Info panel and Rep. Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga made a motion to name Almonte as the head of the TWG on the FOI—a motion that wasn’t met with any opposition from Committee members.

    But even before he was named the head of the TWG, Almonte already underscored in his opening statement that the FOI is not about to board a speeding train.

    “The Senate is already a step ahead because they adopted the version approved in the 15th Congress, but I see this development as a test, rather than a pressure. We should pass a proposal not because of pressure, but to create an enabling law that would serve our country,” Almonte pointed out.

    Aglipay and Rep. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao, both authors of the FOI bill and members of the House Public Info panel, tried to press Almonte to set a date for the TWG to convene so that a consolidated version of the FOI will be ready once the Committee convenes again in November 26.

    Aglipay and Baguilat noted that the TWG can already convene during the session break which spans from October 24 to November 16.

    Such efforts, however, were to no avail with Almonte arguing that he needs to determine the members of the TWG first and consult them before ascertaining the date of the convening of the TWG group for FOI.

    “I have to work with a group here. It is not a one man team. What is the purpose of the recess? There are other matters to attend to,” Almonte added in closing. LLANESCA T. PANTI

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