House of Representatives to look into Senate’s FoI bill

Posted on March 05, 2014

THE HOUSE of Representatives will await the Senate version of the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill before finalizing its own version.

House Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr. told reporters late Monday, the House leadership will get the Senate version after its expected approval before Congress goes on break this March 15.

Mr. Belmonte said the House of Representatives may add some refinements on the Senate version based on the bills filed before the House committee on public information.

"The Senators are planning to approve the FoI bill before we take a break. We would like to get the version of it and study it very carefully," he said.

The Senate on Monday approved on second reading their own FoI bill version -- Senate Bill 7133 -- after undergoing amendments to include the required public disclosure of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) of local government officials; expanded concept of "national security" to include health pandemics and similar situations; and tightening the provision on personal privacy and sensitive personal information by defining its parameters.

Following this, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon has directed the chamber to schedule the third and final approval of the FoI bill on Monday next week, March 10, with assurance from Senate public information committee chairman Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares that the FoI bill will not be watered down by the amendments introduced on the Senate floor.

Mr. Belmonte for his part reiterated that an FoI bill will be passed under his leadership in the 16th Congress. He, however, declined to specify a timetable.

The first regular session of the 16th Congress will soon adjourn, and the second regular session will start on July 28.

"I’m still standing by what I’ve [earlier] said that I guarantee it will be approved here [House of Representatives] during my duly term of office this 16th Congress," Mr. Belmonte said.

Asked to comment on Mr. Belmonte’s pronouncement to await the Senate version of the FoI bill before finalizing the House consolidated version, technical working group (TWG) member and one of the FoI bill authors, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. said in a text message to BusinessWorld yesterday that possibly adopting the Senate version "will definitely facilitate passage" of the FoI bill.

He said that the approved version of the Senate has a similar FoI bill among the 23 versions filed at the House of Representatives.

"I don’t think there is a big difference in the Senate’s bill compared to what’s shaping up as the House consolidated version," he said.

In separate text messages to BusinessWorld yesterday, another FoI bill author, Dinagat Island Rep. Arlene Kaka J. Bag-ao and public information chairman Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge T. Almonte welcomed Mr. Belmonte’s statements on the approval of the FoI bill.

Mr. Almonte said: "It is meritorious after all the House and the Senate has to consider all proposed measures in consonance with the Constitution and its adopted rules, as a result, matters will be facilitated without depriving, however, our committee to do its assigned task on the bills referred to it."

For her part, Ms. Bag-ao said: "We have no vehement objections to the Senate version. If the proposed measure is acceptable to the people and if it will truly uphold the citizen’s right to information, we will yield and take the appropriate steps.

"We just hope that the House committee on public information will hear the clamor for the immediate passage of the FoI bill so that we can act more quickly just like the Senate," she added.

Meanwhile, after earlier delays, the public information committee has set a self-imposed deadline to come up with a consolidated FoI bill version before Congress take its break on March 15 to May 4.

This, as the committee is set to hold a TWG meeting on Monday at 1:30 p.m. to continue consolidating the separate but similar FoI bills referred to the committee. The committee earlier canceled its scheduled TWG meeting last Monday "without official reason."

The FoI bill has been earlier identified as a priority measure of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III’s administration.

Once approved, the proposed measure is widely seen as a boost in the campaign against corruption as it will allow the public to have easier access to government information. -- Imee Charlee C. Delavin