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Freedom of Information Bill, not President Aquino’s priority 

FOI

MANILA – After reneging on his promise to put the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in the “front burner” after the State of the Nation Address (SONA), Philippine lawmaker Ben Evardone, chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, revealed his reasons for his continued inaction on FOI: it is not a priority of President Benigno Aquino, and there is no Liberal Party stand.

In an interview for the television program Failon Ngayon aired August 25 over ABS-CBN Television, Evardone said that it is not him personally who is preventing movement on FOI.

“Ako matagal ko nang gustong ilabas yan dito sa committee ko eh dahil ako nga ang nabubugbog sa media. Eh dati pa akong taga media (I have long been wanting to get it out of my committee since I am the one who gets beaten up in the media. And I was even with the media before),” Evardone said.

He said, however, that given its sensitive and controversial nature, he cannot decide on the FOI bill by himself. “(H)indi naman priority ng ating Pangulo kasi wala doon sa legislative agenda na sinubmit sa atin, wala doon sa SONA.” (It is not a priority of the President because it is not in the legislative agenda submitted to us, it was also not in the SONA.)

Evardone also pointed out that the administration party has no stand on the FOI bill. “Is there a party stand of the Liberal Party? There is none! Kung merong party stand ang Liberal Party, no problem, ako I toe the line.” (If there is a party stand of the Liberal Party, no problem, I toe the line.)

The President, Evardone and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte belong to the Liberal Party.

Speaker silent

In Speaker Belmonte’s speech at the opening of the third (and last) regular session of the 15th Congress on July 23, he referred to the FOI bill as a measure “ready for a vote.”But the FOI bill remains at a standstill at Evardone’s committee since then.

This has prompted more than 100 member organizations of the Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition to write to Speaker Belmonte as early as August 15 to appeal for his intervention.

“At this crucial juncture in the term of the 15th Congress, we appeal for your intervention and concrete action on the FOI bill, pursuant to the powers and duties of the Speaker to ensure full deliberation and swift approval of priority measures.”, the coalition said in the letter.

The coalition also raised concerns to the Speaker over Evardone’s statements in several media stories that his decision not to call a hearing was reportedly upon instruction of the House leadership. “We find this assertion incongruent with the commitment that you have so far expressed on FOI,” the coalition said in its letter-appeal.

To date, Speaker Belmonte has not responded to the coalition’s letter-appeal nor has he given any public reaction to the latest statements of Rep. Evardone.

The coalition, which includes civil society, academe, public employees and media as members, has been calling for the passage of the FOI bill since 2001as an effective tool to fight corruption in government. (RF)

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