Mindanawons Nograles and Romualdo put last nail in FOI coffin but who gets buried?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 June) – Instead of putting the final stamp of approval, Speaker Prospero Nograles of Davao City and Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo put the last nail in the coffin of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as the House of Representatives adjourned Friday without passing what would have been a landmark act, citing  lack of quorum.

But Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) said it was the credibility of Nograles and the 14th Congress that was effectively buried when the House failed to ratify the bill.

“Ang ating binuburol ngayon [ay] ang reputasyon, respeto, at isang salita ni Speaker Nograles at ng 14th Congress,” she told GMANews.TV

Romualdo objected to the ratification, claiming the measure did not even undergo any plenary debates.

Since it was not passed, the bill, which would have given the public greater access to government records and documents, will have to re-filed in the 15th Congress where it will go through the same legislative mill all over again.

If it had been enacted, the FOI Act of the Philippines would have been the third such law in Southeast Asia. “Only Thailand and Indonesia have enacted a right to information law. Should the Philippine push succeed, this will not only benefit Filipinos but will also provide direction and momentum to the whole Southeast Asia region,” abs-cbnnews.coms quoted FOI advocates as saying.

“Nograles: make FOI your legacy,” FOI advocates in Davao City urged in their series of mass actions.

Nograles, three-term 1st district representative of Davao City,  is the first Mindanawon  to have been elected House Speaker. He would refer to the House of Representatives as “House of the People.”

Running on the platform of “Change,” Nograles this year ran for mayor of Davao City against  Vice Mayor Sara Duterte, daughter of the outgoing mayor and Nograles’ political nemesis, Rodrigo Duterte who has slid to the vice mayoralty.

Sara won by a landslide, with 388,465 votes against Nograles’ 160,225 or a difference of 228, 240 votes.

“Sorry”

On the lack of quorum, Nograles told House reporters, “this is beyond my control.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

A total of 128 lawmakers out of 268 were present, but it was seven congressmen less than the required quorum of 135. There were reportedly142 insider the session hall before the roll call was made.

“The non-ratification of the FOI bill is a disgrace to Congress but is a fitting end to a Congress that, for the last three years, has zelously protected the President and her minions from being held accountable for their crimes against the people,” abs-cbnnews.com quoted Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño as saying.

“It was  obvious from the start that the House leadership and Malacañang frowned upon the FOI bill because they feared it would be used to hold them accountable for their corruption,” he added.

“This is the third day, a painful day for all of us, Mr. Speaker. And if we will not in any way approve this bill, I declare that this Congress, Mr. Speaker, has fooled the Filipino people. And I’ll walk out from this Congress right now,” Manila Rep. Bienvenido  Abante said, then left.

“Arrest them”

Advocates of the FOI, including Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Rep. Joel Villanueva of Citizens Battle Against Corruption sought to have some lawmakers arrested and brought to the session hall, but the motion was rejected.

You want to arrest them? You honestly want to arrest them?” Nograles asked.

Villanueva said the Speaker could compel the attendance of those absent “as stated in the rules.”

“This word arrested may simply mean to compel the presence of the other members of the House of Representatives who are within the Batasan premises in order to secure a quorum and conduct business,” Baraquel explained, adding that even Malacañang had called on the lower House to ratify the FOI bill.

“There is nothing I could do. Under the rules, when there is no quorum, the Speaker has to bang the gavel and adjourn. Those are the rules,” Nograles said.

The Senate had earlier passed a resolution urging the House of Representatives to ratify FOI.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile even sent a personal message to Speaker Nograles,  urging him to ratify the FOI. Malacanang through Gary Olivar and Leandro Mendoza, said President  Arroyo has no objections to the FOI passage, but she will not certify the bill as urgent. (MindaNews)

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