5 September 2012

THE CONSPIRACY to kill the FOI bill in the 14th Congress is unfolding yet again, this time in the 15th Congress.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II on Monday started sounding the death knell for the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, saying in two news reports that “many lawmakers” do not want to pass it. He cited as reason their fear that hao siao or illegitimate media members will abuse it to attack politicians like him and the members of Congress.

“Ang problema kasi sa FOI, kapag ang impormasyon ay napunta in the hands of unscrupulous media. Ngayon lang may tumitira ng hao siao, bibigyan mo pa ng ganyang armas. Eh baka wala ng manungkulan sa gobyerno dahil sa takot na titirahin sila palagi,” Gonzales was reported as saying in the tabloid Remate. A similar news report with the same statements attributed to Gonzales also ran in Pilipino Star Ngayon the same day.

As House Majority Leader and concurrent Chairman of the powerful Committee on Rules, Gonzales oversees the preparation of the Order of Business and Calendar of Business of the House. His committee may declare a bill urgent so it may be considered according to a fixed timetable, and set a deadline for it to be reported by the committee concerned.

But Gonzales would not intervene to get Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, to call a hearing on the FOI bill. Instead, by his statements Gonzales merely confirmed Evardone’s earlier claim that his refusal to act on the bill was consistent with instructions from the House leadership.

To be sure, Gonzales is no stranger to conspiracies in the House to kill FOI. He was Senior Deputy Majority Leader of the 14th Congress under then Speaker Prospero Nograles, which had refused to calendar the FOI bicameral conference report for ratification.

Nograles and the leaders of the 14th Congress finally called the report for ratification only the final session day, only to kill the FOI bill by an alleged “lack of quorum.”

The roll call tally, however, had all the earmarks of hao siao reporting by Nograles, Gonzales, and the leaders of the 14th Congress. At least eight House members had been documented by media’s video footage and by their own statements to have been physically present on the floor during the roll call. But in the dishonorable manner of hao siao reporting by the leaders of the 14th Congress, the eight legislators were marked absent. The eight would have brought the number of members present to more than the required quorum.

Gonzales himself was among those erroneously marked absent the day the 14th Congress killed the FOI bill.

In the 14th Congress Gonzales was a senior member of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD. He made a well-timed defection to the Liberal Party about a month before the 2010 elections when the election of presidential candidate Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III had become fait accompli. This well-timed act of turncoatism earned for Gonzales the coveted Majority Leader position in the 15th Congress.

Like Gonzales, Evardone was also a belated defector from Lakas-Kampi-CMD. He took his oath as Liberal Party member in June 2010.

And now, to justify why the FOI bill remains stuck in his committee, Evardone in a recent television interview has so casually, if quickly, tossed blame to the Liberal Party. He had said that the FOI has not moved past his committee because it is not a priority of President Aquino, and neither does the Liberal Party have any party stand on FOI.

In truth, even if Gonzales and Evardone were discounted from the equation, a fortnight ago at least 117 members of the 280-member House of Representatives had signed on to a public statement they called “Declaration of Commitment to Pass the FOI Bill.” In contrast, Gonzales can only refer to unnamed “many lawmakers” as being opposed to the bill.

The true and original LP stalwarts in jest call Gonzales, Evardone and their likes who are recent converts as LP or “Lakas Pala” members. They should do better than set up the FOI bill for slow death by merely raising the spectre of hao siao reporters taking liberties with information to attack politicians like them.

By all indications, the real fear about the FOI bill that spooks Gonzales, entrenched politicians and political dynasties in the country is that it will open the door to legitimate public scrutiny into their official acts and transactions, and enable the people’s right to know the good, the bad, and the ugly about them all.