At least three years after then Senator Benigno Aquino 3rd promised to push for the passage of Freedom of Information law, the ruling Liberal Party that he chairs is still deferring its stance on the FOI measure.
Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, a member of the LP, made the disclosure a day after the House leadership appointed LP member and Rep. Jorge Almonte of Misamis Occidental as the Chairman of the House Committee on Public Information which would determine the fate of the FOI measure in Congress.
“As for the party stand on the FOI, it has not been on the radar and we haven’t talked about it yet. All I can say is that the party stands for transparency and good governance,” Evardone said during the weekly Ugnayan sa Batasan News Forum.
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 access to information being used for decision making or project management, including transcripts and minutes of official meetings.
Almonte was initially named as the Chairman of the House Committee on Ethics but his election as Ethics panel chair was withdrawn on Monday night by House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong. He was thereafter appointed as the Chairman of the House Public Information panel.
In the 15th Congress, Almonte was a member of the National Union Party (NUP)—mainly composed of former party-mates of former President Gloria Arroyo under the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi). Almonte jumped ship to the ruling LP for the May polls.
LP lawmakers and Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento of Western Samar then admitted that Almonte’s name wasn’t recommended by the LP, considering that lawmakers, regardless of political party, have shied away from the Chairmanship of the House Public Information because of the huge responsibility of shepherding the FOI passage into law or grounding it.
“I would have to say that the post wasn’t attractive because there are a lot of contentious issues involved. It would be hard on the House leadership to pressure somebody to Chair a Committee that he is not comfortable with because he won’t be passionate on his job,” Sarmiento, who also serves as the Secretary-General of the LP, pointed out.
Sarmiento, however, vouched for the competency of Almonte, considering that the latter was a lawyer, worked as a prosecutor and a former local executive.
FOI author and Rep. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao, also from the LP, also opted to be positive on Almonte’s appointment despite the fact that he endorsed another lawmaker, Rep. Emmerline Aglipay of the Democratic Independent Workers Association party-list, for Almonte’s post.
Aglipay categorically supports the passage of the FOI.
“I was surprised with his appointment. I would have to admit he was under our radar. But it can still be a good thing because as far as I know, he doesn’t have a stand on the FOI just yet. There is an opportunity to convince him,” Baguilat said in a separate interview.