LAST February 2 and 3, the last two days before Congress adjourned for the elections, the House of Representatives failed to take up the ratification of the Bicameral Conference Committee Report on the Freedom of Information Act.
The members of the House of Speaker Prospero Nograles were caught up in conflicts largely partisan and personal, that they could not bother with important and urgent public-interest legislation. Repeatedly, the rival camps questioned the presence of a quorum on both days.
In the end, the ratification of the Freedom of Information Act fell by the wayside, collateral casualty to the little wars of the honorable members of the House.
We had hoped to see that, as promised in his press statements earlier, Speaker Nograles would submit the FOI for ratification by the House before the members adjourn to campaign for the elections. We had hoped to see proof that Speaker Nograles could demonstrate leadership and get his House in order.
For two days, we hoped in earnest that the FOI law and other legislative matters of equal import would not be held hostage to questions over quorum, nor even to a contest over who should sit in one legislative district of Cebu.
The House failed us. We had hoped in vain, leading us to raise doubts now about the sincerity of Speaker Nograles’s avowed support for the Freedom of Information Act.
Under Rule X, Section 61 of the Rules of the House of Representatives, “(T)he consideration of conference committee reports shall always be in order, except when the Journal is being read, while the roll is being called, or the House is dividing on any question.”
In other words, the House should have taken up the ratification of the FOI Bicameral Conference Committee Report ahead of all other business, including the privilege speeches that were allowed last February 2.
This rule derives from one reason: the highly privileged status of a Bicameral Conference Committee Report, which settles the differences of the two chambers and perfects legislation as far as Congress can. A Bicameral Conference Committee Report, in gist, is the legislative business at its nearest completion. A bill so far advanced as to become the subject of a conference report is entitled to priority over other businesses of the Congress in an earlier stage.
This rule is copied from the Rules of the United States House of Representatives (presently in Rule XII, Section 7(a)). Section 246 of Reed’s Manual of General Parliamentary Law explains why a conference report “shall be in order at any time”:
A conference report has precedence over any other business, because, being the procedure by which a final agreement is reached between the two Houses, the assent of both, which is essential to legislate on it, must be further advanced than any subject under debate. The courtesy, also, between the two bodies requires that precedence should be given to joint business. Accordingly, in the United States House the conference report is privileged, even against a motion to adjourn, and may be made at any time except while the journal is being read, the roll called, or the House dividing. This is but a declaration of general parliamentary law, except the privilege given as against a motion to adjourn.
But in total disregard for this rule, leaders of the House majority refused to introduce the Bicameral Conference Committee Report on the floor for ratification.
What happened, in fact, on February 2 and 3 to the FOI Act? Was it just a case of a Speaker projecting to the cameras for brownie points, and later forgetting about what he had said he believed in?
We keep our faith: If the House leadership wills it, the Freedom of Information Act can be ratified, and transmitted immediately to the President for enactment into law. For such a good law, the House can and must do it.
Congress resumes session on May 31. The rule giving privileged status to Bicameral Conference Committee Reports in the consideration of business remains applicable to the FOI Act.
The Right to Know. Right Now! Campaign has conducted the advocacy for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in good faith and in the most positive manner.
We ask Speaker Nograles: Convince us that the trust we reposed on your leadership, and your avowed commitment to pass the Freedom of Information Act, will not be betrayed.
We ask Speaker Nograles: Expressly commit to the people that you will put the ratification of the Freedom of Information Act ahead of any business of the House when it resumes session on May 31.
We ask Speaker Nograles: Assure the people that you will lead the House of Representatives in the ratification of the Freedom of Information Act on May 31, and forthwith order its enrollment and transmittal to the President for approval.
The Right to Know. Right Now! Campaign will fight on.
We invite all those who wish to join the struggle to claim our Freedom of Information to be with us when we attend mass to be celebrated by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Auxillary Bishop of Manila, on 14 February, 7 am, at the Sto. Niño de Tondo Parish at 600 L. Chacon St., Tondo, Manila.
We will hold a meeting after the mass to chart the next steps of our struggle.
After 23 years since the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the passage of the Freedom of Information will finally come.
We will not fail!
Download full statement.