GMA kin among MIA for Freedom of Information Act

06/07/2010 - MANILA, Philippines - Four relatives of President Arroyo were among the congressmen who did not show up in the last session of the House of Representatives last Friday, leading to the chamber’s failure to ratify the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The President’s sons, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, brother-in-law Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, and sister-in-law Ma. Lourdes Arroyo of the Kasangga party-list were among the 139 congressmen who were absent during the crucial voting for ratification of the FOI.

Dato and Iggy were among the 85 lawmakers who co-authored the FOI bill who failed to appear to muster the quorum needed to ratify the measure.

Most of those absent were administration allies, with a few from the opposition, including outgoing Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of defeated Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora (San Juan).

Zamora was also one of the co-authors of the FOI, along with administration Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, who was also absent.

Among the notables who did not show up were former speaker and Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr.

There were allegations that the effort to thumb down the FOI was all part of a “script” in which congressmen simply would not show up when a roll is called for a quorum.

Speaker Prospero Nograles clarified that the failure of the House to ratify the FOI was not scripted.

“What script they are talking about? It was in open public, transparent session in plenary. That’s a very unfair accusation,” he complained.

As soon as the session opened Friday, Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo, who ironically heads the House committee on good government and public accountability, moved for a roll call for a quorum before ratifying the bill.

Romualdo stressed a quorum is needed before a legislation is tackled on the floor.

According to Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) party-list Rep. Joel Villanueva, some of his colleagues were just loitering around but did not show up when a roll call was called.

Villanueva identified some of them as Amin party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman, Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, Alagad Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, South Cotabato Rep. Arthur Pingoy, North Cotabato Rep. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, Valenzuela City Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo, Siquijor Rep. Orlando Fua, Alif party- list Rep. Acmad Tomawis and Rizal Rep. Michael John Duavit.

Villanueva had tried to force the issue by moving to arrest the loitering congressmen and have them hauled on the floor for the quorum but this was denied.

The House adjourned session after failing to muster a quorum, as only 128 members showed up, which are seven votes shy of the required 135 warm bodies that could have continued the session.

“For the record, I have done everything I could. I have called, texted everybody. We can’t take up any legislative business without a quorum. I wish we’re not on our last session day. There is nothing I could do. The Speaker has to bang the gavel and adjourn,” Nograles said.

He said the lack of quorum in last Friday’s session “was beyond his control.”

The House and the Senate approved the FOI in the bicameral conference committee. The Senate had ratified the bicameral version last Feb. 1 but the House failed to approve it.

Blaming us again

Malacañang said President Arroyo should not be blamed for the failure to pass the FOI bill.

Deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said Mrs. Arroyo was even disappointed by the failure of the House to ratify the FOI bill,

Peyuan said Malacañang has “never been remiss,” and on several occasions, called on Congress to ratify the FOI bill as a priority measure.

“So I thing it would be unfair if they will be accusing that the President did not do enough. The Palace has been endorsing the passage of the (FOI) bill for a long, long time,” he said.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar also hit critics who blame Mrs. Arroyo, pointing out the sponsors of the FOI bill themselves had killed the passage of the measure when they did not show up in last Friday’s session.

“It’s time to stop opposing and finger pointing, and start taking responsibility for governing,” Olivar said.

Peyuan said the FOI bill was apparently sidelined by the political campaign of congressmen.

“We always respect the reasons or justifications that they (congressmen) have for not acting on the bill and primarily the matter of quorum is beyond the control of Malacañang for that matter,” he said.

Peyuan said Mrs. Arroyo is hoping that the next administration would fast-track the approval of the measure.

Presidential frontrunner Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, for his part, gave assurance the next administration would support the passage of the FOI.

Aquino was among the senators who signed Senate Resolution 1565 urging the House to pass the measure.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said they would make sure that the FOI bill would be re-filed and become a priority in the 15th Congress.

Enrile said the Senate did what they had to do and even went beyond by requesting their counterparts in the House to ratify the bicameral conference committee report through a resolution.

Enrile said the FOI bill was approved by both legislative chambers but there were disagreeing provisions in the bicameral report, which was ratified by the Senate as early as February.

“They (House members) were not able to do it but it’s up to them, we can’t demand, we can only appeal,” he said.

Enrile said he is even willing to sponsor the bill in the 15th Congress.

“Who will (then) oppose (the bill) when we have approved it?” Enrile remarked.

Zubiri said senators were feeling bad about the House inaction on the bill.

He said the administration lawmakers who blocked the passage of FOI should realize that they could soon be in the opposition and would also need to secure documents in conducting investigations.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said they would push for the passage of the FOI in the incoming 15th Congress.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo also lamented some lawmakers deliberately did not show up in the last session where the FOI bill is scheduled to be ratified.

Pabillo claimed the congressmen protected their own interests.

“This 14th Congress lost the honor to bequeath a landmark for our democracy,” Pabillo said.

Pabillo also hailed the lawmakers who worked for the FOI. He said they are worthy of the honor and respect of the public.

CBCP-NASSA executive secretary Fr. Edu Gariguez said the Filipino people mourned the lost opportunity of strengthening the country’s democratic institution.

“The failure of Congress to pass the Freedom of Information bill is a shameless betrayal,” Gariguez said.

Other sectors also slammed the House for failing to ratify the FOI bill.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) also urged the incoming lawmakers of the 15th Congress and Aquino to resurrect the FOI bill as a proof of his anti-corruption campaign.

TUCP chairman Ernesto Herrera said the new Congress and Aquino should approve the measure within the first 100 days of their office.

“The bill’s approval inside the first 100 days of the new administration will surely give meaning to Mr. Aquino’s forceful anti-corruption stance,” Herrera said.

Herrera said workers are counting on the passage of the FOI bill to promote absolute transparency, reinforce public accountability and repel malfeasance in the government.

“Highly improved governance is vital to drawing in more investments and creating badly needed new jobs,” Herrera pointed out.

The FOI bill seeks to strengthen the constitutional right to information on matters of civic concern, including state contracts.

The bill seeks to mandate all state offices to make available for public scrutiny all information regarding official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as statistics used for policy development.

The proposal also limits the executive privilege to withhold sensitive information only in times of war and emergency (Freeman)

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