DESPITE touting transparency and accountability as its core policy, the Aquino administration is not endorsing the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in the 16th Congress, an administration lawmaker said on Friday.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, one of the FOI authors, made the disclosure in light of reports that Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe is likely to be named House Committee on Public Information chairman.
The House Public Information panel is crucial in the passage or death of the FOI measure because its chairman can dictate the pace of the hearings on the bill en route to the plenary debate.
“He [Batocabe] told me that he didn’t want to chair the Committee because it would be difficult. His feeling is that there is no clear endorsement coming from Malacañang,” said Baguilat, who has been named the chairman of the House Committee on Agrarian Reform.
During the 15th Congress, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone chaired the Public Information panel. The substitute bill on the FOI was already done by February 2011, and yet the measure was only approved in the Committee level by November 2012. The measure was sponsored before the plenary, but it never progressed from thereon.
The Palace submitted its position on the FOI before Evardone’s panel only by January 2012.
Baguilat said their experience in the 15th Congress showed that waiting for Palace endorsement of the FOI can doom the bill so they might as well proceed without Malacañang’s inputs.
“Our mistake in the last Congress was we got lax. We neglected it. We depended on the President’s pronouncements. For this Congress, let us not make the Palace endorsement as a prerequisite for action. Whether or not the President says that it is priority legislation, we should push for it and make it our own priority,” explained Baguilat, a member of the ruling Liberal Party chaired by President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“You don’t need Malacañang’s blessing to pursue the FOI bill,” he added.
But Baguilat clarified that FOI advocates like him are not asking Batocabe to railroad the bill, saying that a Committee Chairman should not be biased for the measure.
“As chairman, you just have to make sure to facilitate the discussions and avoid delays.
That is what is asked of being the chairman, not exactly to be openly biased for the bill,” Baguilat concluded.