FOI by 2016? We will surprise senators, House says

MANILA, Philippines – Will the chamber that has traditionally been reluctant to pass the Freedom of Information Bill manage to pass the measure in the 16th Congress?

The House of Representatives may just surprise the Senate, says the Speaker.

Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr said Monday, September 30, the House leadership is "seriously examining" the various versions of the FOI Bill that has been filed this year. The measure seeks to install fast procedures in accessing government documents. 

In a forum organized by the Makati Business Club, Belmonte said he will "surprise" everyone by ensuring that an FOI Bill will emerge from the House by 2016. 

"We like to joke that senators are very quick to approve the FOI bill knowing very well that it will take a while to pass in the House. We will surprise them as well," Belmonte said. 

After the FOI bill moved to the plenary at the Senate, the House public information committee scheduled its first hearing on Tuesday, October 22. 

Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public information, earlier sponsored the upper chamber's version of the FOI Bill. Poe said the bill is a consolidation of 12 separate proposals, including 9 bills and one resolution, Malacañang's version of the measure, and the petition for indirect initiative by citizens' groups.

How about right of reply?

For the past two congresses, the ball to pass the FOI bill had been on the House's court. 

It was one step away from becoming law in the 14th Congress. A bicameral version was drafted but the House failed to act on it due to lack of quorum. 

In the 15th Congress, the Senate approved FOI on 3rd and final reading but the House did not even manage to tackle it on the floor. 

"I'm as much for it as the next person, but I know the Congress better than a lot of people and many congressmen resent it when you're looking over their shoulder, shouting at them, insulting them, having placards in front of them. Basta ako, I want to play it differently," Belmonte said. 

On whether the House version will include a right of reply provision – the controversial provision opposed by media practitiones – the House leader said he is in favor of the concept, but said it should be filed as a separate measure.

Right of reply gives subjects of reports perceived to be negative the right to defend themselves in the same media platform where the story was published. FOI advocates have branded it as a killer provision. – Rappler.com