FOI in the House

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Saturday, February 8, 2014


SEN. JV Ejercito asked Cebu’s journalists to share their ideas on his version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill yesterday.

Ejercito said he might consider the inputs from them and include them in his measure.

He said he is optimistic the bill will be passed by the Senate next month.

The Senate committee on public information and mass media, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, has been taking questions on the FOI in recent days.

“I will really focus to pass the FOI,” he said.

In a meeting with news editors and columnists, Ejercito said “the real battle” will be in the House of Representatives.

The measure is seen by pundits as one that will empower the public to fight corruption because it allows them to scrutinize information from different government agencies, except information relating to national security.

In the 2012 Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, the Philippines ranked 105th least corrupt out of 174 countries.

Finland and Denmark shared the No. 1 spot as the least corrupt countries, while Sweden ranked fourth and Norway, seventh.

The passage of the FOI bill into law has been hampered by lawmakers who want to include the right to reply provision. This provision states that any person involved in an issue relating to the obtained documents must be given the chance to explain or account for the issue in the media.

Ejercito said he is not in favor of inserting the right to reply condition in his bill.

“It should be a separate measure,” he said.

The Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), in a resolution in September 2012, asked for the approval of the FOI bill.

In 2007, CCPC also opposed the House and Senate bills that would legislate and the right to reply in media and set penalties if the right is denied.

CCPC expresses “vigorous opposition to pending proposals to legislate and criminalize the right to reply” in media as they “infringe on press freedom and are unnecessary, impractical, and open to abuse.”

Ejercito urged President Benigno Aquino III to certify the FOI bill as urgent so its passage into law will be fast-tracked.

The FOI bill, he said, is among the least prioritized bills of the Aquino administration.

If the bill will be passed by the Senate, Ejercito believes the representatives will be pressured to pass their own version.

He said it is a good sign that House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte vows to pass the FOI bill during his term.

CCPC executive director Pachico A. Seares and CCPC deputy director Cherry Ann T. Lim were present during the meeting. Both are Sun.Star Cebu editors.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and his nephew former councilor Edu Rama were also present.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 08, 2014.

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