MANILA (Mabuhay) – A congressional advocate of the freedom of information (FOI) bill admitted that media’s coverage of the pork barrel scam has affected his colleagues’ support for the much-delayed measure.
Ifugao Representative Teodoro Baguilat Jr., one of the authors of at least 24 FOI bills in the House of Representatives, said some of his colleagues want a right of reply provision inserted to make sure they are not unfairly covered, as they believe the case was during the pork barrel scam coverage.
Baguilat explained that some of his colleagues were affected by the conflicting reports on Janet Lim Napoles’ list of alleged pork barrel scam beneficiaries and conspirators among lawmakers.
“Dalawang reaction yan. Either kailangan ipasa ang FOI para tumaas reputasyon…at para di na rin maulit at yung kabilang reaction kailangan hindi against FOI kundi right of reply para may pagkakataon na sagutin ang batikos dahil sa pork barrel scam. We don’t need an ROR. I don’t believe kailangan i-legislate editorial policy.”
Baguilat said the FOI is popular among the freshmen lawmakers.
“Yung mga bagong kongresista, neophytes, bukas sila sa FOI. Wala pa kong naririnig na tutol sa FOI.”
“It’s the old timers that are insisting on the FOI. (Yung mga dati na), marami sa kanila walang tutol sa FOI pero gusto pag-usapan ang right of reply. They feel na dahil sa FOI gagamitin ito ng mga kaaway sa mga unscrupulous na media. I wouldn’t say na ganun na pag-usapan rin natin right of reply at FOI. Hati eh. Meron naman kahit walang FOI. Kaya walang author nag-file na may ROR at FOI.”
Baguilat believes that the majority of his colleagues don’t think they need a right of reply rider inserted in the FOI bill.
Another advocate, Parañaque Representative Gus Tambunting, confirmed the sentiments of other colleagues.
“Pareho pananaw namin na yung pagbanat sa PDAF (Priority Development Assitance Funds) eh maraming sinasabi palagay dapat may FOI mapapakita na walang tinatago. FOI is about transparency and accountability,” but on the other hand there are others who think, “sabi nila sandali baka kailangan we should be given chance (to clarify),” he said.
Tambunting also wishes President Benigno Aquino III had pushed for the FOI in his penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday as it would have been a big boost for the bill.
Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, former chair of the Public Information Committee during whose watch the bill languished, feels it is enough that the bill was included in the list of Malacañang’s 26 priority measures. FOI is number 18 in the list. Tambunting echoed this sentiment.
Baguilat said for its part, Malacañang just wants to insert a provision for its open data initiative, which would mandate that all government documents be published on the worldwide web.
FOI advocates in the media have been against a right of reply rider, noting it is a form of editorial control.
The FOI bills have been in the Public Information Committee for about a year now, awaiting final consolidation before being discharged to plenary. The committee had began work late, bogged down with scheduling issues and lack of a venue for its initial meetings.
While listing it as a priority, Aquino has refused to certify the bill as urgent—which is crucial to ensure its speedy passage.
The current chairman, Representative Jorge Almonte, is holding onto the word of the House leadership that it will be passed within the current Congress.
Almonte also expressed hope the bill will be able to limit the invocation of executive privilege, which can prevent the disclosure of information. (MNS)