Another technicality to delay House version of FOI bill

The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill at the House of Representatives is seen to face further delay after the chairperson of the committee which approved the measure insisted on calling for another hearing to approve the panel’s report on the proposed legislation.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, who heads the House committee on public information, said he needs to convene his panel once again on December 11 to formally give its nod on the committee report endorsing the FOI bill for plenary debates.

Evardone cited Section 39 of the House Rules to justify his decision to call for another hearing on the FOI bill. This provision states that “committee reports… shall be considered in formal meetings and approved by a majority of members present, there being a quorum.”

“That is the rule. We can’t ignore the rules. We have rules to follow,” Evardone said in a phone interview.

But Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, FOI bill author, described the additional hearing being called by Evardone next week as “superfluous.”

“This is just a technicality being highlighted as an essential point. As I understand it, once the committee approves the substitute bill, the committee members just need to sign the committee report,” Bello said in a separate phone interview.

Last week, a majority of members of the House public information committee approved the FOI bill, which seeks to provide more transparency in government data and transactions.

‘Disturbing’

Bello further described Evardone’s move as “disturbing” and expressed fear that the additional hearing may hinder the passage of the bill during the 15th Congress.

“I think it [the additional hearing] will result in another procedural delay that will prevent consideration of the bill in plenary before adjournment of sessions for Christmas. I am very disappointed in the chairperson, but I am not at all surprised,” the party-list lawmaker said.

He added that Evardone should just circulate the committee report on the FOI bill to the panel’s members for their signatures, which he said is the “common practice” for other measures at the House.

Evardone, however, insisted on calling for an additional hearing, saying he wants the FOI bill to reach the plenary without procedural problems.

“Kung pagpapaikot lang nung bill for signatures, walang problema sa akin iyan. Madali lang naman iyon. Ayoko lang makwestyon pagdating sa plenary that I didn’t call for a formal meeting to approve the committee report,” he said.

Evardone failed to call for a hearing on the FOI bill last year, causing the measure to be stalled at the committee level for more than a year. He has also repeatedly pledged to hold a committee hearing on the measure earlier this year but was not able to make good on his words due to various reasons such as the prioritization of other bills to the lack of a room to use for the hearing.

— RSJ, GMA News

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