Jan 272013

The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is facing a “crucial” week at the House of Representatives, with only six session days left to sponsor, discuss, amend and ultimately pass the measure which seeks to promote transparency in government transactions.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, who supports the proposed legislation, said the FOI bill is already “dead” if the House fails to pass it on second reading by Wednesday.

“We need nothing short of a miracle. Kailangan ma-sponsor siya mamaya, and then it has to breeze through the period of debates and amendments. By Wednesday, we have to pass it on second reading. Sobrang makipot na ang schedule,” Baguilat said in a phone interview.

He added that the House leadership has already sent text messages to lawmakers asking them to attend sessions this week to be able to muster a quorum.

“Ang sinabi lang doon sa text is that we have to attend to be able to pass important legislations. Walang nakalagay na FOI, pero siyempre, iyon na lang naman ang natitirang mahalagang batas na dapat ipasa,” he said.

Baguilat added that FOI advocates are still hoping that President Benigno Aquino III will certify the bill as urgent to be able to fast track its passage at the lower chamber.

“Kapag na-certify ito, siguradong papasa ito… I still believe that the President supports the FOI bill and wants transparency in government,” the congressman said.

But Aquino, who won the presidency in 2010 with his anti-corruption platform, said over the weekend that he cannot certify the FOI bill as urgent yet until some issues on the measure have been threshed out.

Last month, the Senate already unanimously passed its version of the FOI bill. At the House, the measure has yet to enter the period of sponsorship—the first step in the plenary discussions of the proposed legislation.

‘Hail Mary pass’

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, an author of the FOI bill, meanwhile said that it is time for the House to “unleash” a “Hail Mary pass” to be able to approve the measure before sessions adjourn on February 9.

“In football, there is a phenomenon called the “Hail Mary pass,” a long, desperate pass in the last few seconds that results in a winning goal. I hope PNoy will finally let loose that pass to the many receivers in Congress waiting to score the touchdown for FoI,” Bello said in a separate statement.

He likewise described the FOI bill as the country’s “passport to joining the ranks of mature democracies.”

“The people cannot afford to be deprived of a freedom of information law. Without it, the people would be completely in the dark with regards to the management and disbursement of its scarce resources,” he said.

He added that Congress should make the FOI bill its “crowning glory” after passing landmark measures last year such as the controversial Reproductive Health bill and the “Sin Tax” bill. — RSJ, GMA News

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