19 January 2013

[FYI in Manila Standard Today] Congress scrambles to pass priority bills

With only nine session days left before Congress adjourns on Feb. 9, the House and the Senate are scrambling to tackle several priority measures, especially the Freedom of Information Bill, for the third and last session of the 15th Congress.

Proponents and supports of the FOI Bill on Friday held a press conference to push for the measure, which was already passed on third reading at the Senate but has yet to gain ground at the House.

The group was led by the bill’s  author, Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, along with Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, professor Luis Teodoro of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Ana Maria Nemenzo of the WomenHealth Philippines, lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, Carlo Brolagda of FOI Youth Initiative and Juned Sunido of the Netizens of the Philippines.

Tanada urged his fellow lawmakers to vote for the FOI bill,  saying that there was still enough time to take up the measure before Congress adjourns to give way to the May 13 elections.

“Each representative must ask himself or herself where does   he or she stand on the issue of the FOI measure,” Tanada said.

He added that the measure should cross party lines.

“If Congress believes in good governance and accountability, it is our responsibility to attend the session, instead of waiting for instruction from our respective parties,” he said.

Tañada said he will ask House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to allow the bill’s authors to deliver their sponsorship speech on Monday.

“We all know that a Monday session is always devoted to a day for privilege speeches, and that based on experience, the House has always experienced a problem in the quorum. (So) I will have to ask the Speaker to give us some leniency on the policy of quorum while deliberation is ongoing.”

The Senate passed on third and final reading the FOI bill as well as the version submitted by the House committee on public information.

Belmonte, meanwhile, said he and other House leaders will meet with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile over the weekend to discuss the FOI and other priority measures.

Belmonte underscored the need to “to harmonize” bills to be passed with the Senate to ensure that these would reach the desk of President Benigno Aquino III.

“Communication between the two chambers is important at this point,” Belmonte said as he vowed to muster a quorum during the remaining session days,” Bemonte said

He said the Lower House was all set for the resumption of session on Monday, Jan. 21.

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