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‘Right-to-reply’ excised in Senate FOI

A joint Senate panel on Wednesday approved the proposed freedom of information (FOI) bill without the controversial right-of-reply provision, setting the stage for plenary debates next week. Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the committee on public information and mass media, said was hopeful that the bill would gain approval of the chamber within the year. “In our committee, one thing is clear—it is important now to enact into law the freedom of information or FOI bill,” said Poe. With the law, Poe said, every Filipino will have the power to actively participate in monitoring how the government spends public’s money. She pointed out that said alleged abuses in government would have been prevented if the bill had been passed in Congress. During the 15th Congress, the bill was passed in the Senate but was stalled at the committee level at the House of Representatives. While no formal vote was taken at the committee level, Poe said the FOI bill was in effect approved since no member of the panel expressed objections to the measure. The Senate version of the bill does not include a right-of-reply provision, which would require media to give subjects of negative reports equal space or airtime to reply. In Wednesday’s hearing, Assistant Secretary Jess Anthony Yu of the Presidential Communication Operations Office said the bill would be tackled at the next meeting of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council, which sets the administration’s priority measures. Several news organizations have expressed their support for the passage of the bill that will ensure public access to information from government agencies and promotes transparency in government transactions and data. GMA News and Public Affairs vice president for news operations Grace dela Pena said an FOI law will ensure the full exercise of the public’s right to know. Rowena Paraan, who represented ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs during the hearing, said the passage of the FOI bill will show the administration’s seriousness in its anti-corruption drive. She said ABS-CBN believes the FOI, while it helps journalists, is for all Filipinos. In the House, the minority bloc demanded that the leadership take a clear stand on FOI. “You (majority bloc) outnumber us like nine to one. Whatever you want, you can get. That is fine with us. If you don’t want the FOI, just say so so we can end this issue,” said Minority Leader and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora. The House committee on public information chaired by Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte has yet to deliberate on the measure filed by Reps. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of the Citizen’s Battle Against Crime and Corruption party-list group. With Maricel V. Cruz
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