FOI bill in danger of dying in the 15th Congress

Time is running out for the passage of the Freedom of Information bill in the 15th Congress as days inch closer to the lawmakers’ Christmas break.

Starting the resumption of sessions on November  5, there would only be 35 working days left before Congress adjourns for the holidays on December 21, according to a statement released by the Right to Know Right Now Coalition.

House Bill 53, authored by Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, is currently stalled at the House of Representatives after the FOI committee failed to put it to a vote. Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, however, vowed to focus solely on the bill and put it to a vote when hearings resume on November 27.

According to the Right to Know Right Now Coalition, the FOI bill must be approved on second and third reading in both Houses before December 21 for the bill to be heard by the bicameral conference committee in time for ratification when session resumes in January 2013.

Senate Bill 3208 or the “People’s Ownership of Government Information (POGI) Act of 2012,” is also languishing in the Senate as Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, one of the bill’s co-authors, has yet to deliver his co-sponsorship speech. Sen. Gregorio Honasan II is the primary author of SB 3208.

Some lawmakers and FOI advocates have criticized Malacanang’s lack of support for the speedy passage of the bill. Critics have noted that the passage of the FOI bill was part of Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s campaign platform when he ran for office in 2010.

Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, however, insisted that the Palace was not out delay the bill’s passage.

A Malacanang primer on the FOI bill indicated that it is “an integral element of the Aquino Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan 2012-2016.”

While the citizens’ right to access public information is enshrined in the Constitution, there is currently no law stating the guidelines for the disclosure of public records, which include, but not limited to a public official’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN), and contracts for government-funded projects.

 A 2012 study by doctoral student Edson Tandoc Jr. and  Bruno Takahashi of the Missouri School of Journalism revealed that countries with a high level of press freedom and access to information have higher levels of happiness and living standards.