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'Right of Reply bill not yet dead at House'

MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Prospero Nograles said the Right of Reply bill (RORB) is not yet dead at the House of Representatives as he appealed to media to propose amendments to the measure.

“We can only delay its passage or rejection on the floor but we have to vote on it. That’s part of our mandate as legislators. The House will have to deal with the measure at one point,” he said.

Submitting recommendations is necessary so Congress “can craft a measure that is acceptable and fair to all parties.”

The Speaker’s office will soon be sending letters to media entities seeking recommendations and proposed amendments to the RORB.

Nograles said there was a possibility that the RORB would be “defeated on the floor” but he “strongly suggests that media organizations should not take any chances by ensuring that their positions are heard once the measure is brought to plenary.

“We have conducted a consultation with the country’s media organizations and media leaders with the most earnest hope that they will submit their position papers and amendatory recommendations so that the House can consider them,” Nograles added.

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Amid vehement objections from media, Nograles wants to have a “middle ground” on the RORB, which might be decided by the House of Representatives when session resumes on April 13, after a month-long Lenten break.

“We can resolve this issue through consultations. A middle ground is not impossible,” he said.

House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor said that the RORB is being put on hold by the House leadership to allow all concerned sectors, especially the media, to come up with recommendations that would promote press freedom.

“We did not recommit the bill to the sponsoring committee. We are just not hurrying up its plenary consideration to allow members of the House and the stakeholders (media) to review its provisions and reach the best consensus,” he said.

At present, the measure is the subject “of a more judicious review” by the House committee on public information chaired by Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante.

Abante agrees with Nograles and Defensor in getting vital inputs from the media, for whom letters and copies of the bill have been prepared.

“It is important that we get their input and concrete proposals,” Abante said.

Nograles stressed that the RORB has long been pending in the House as it was approved by the Senate as early as July 2008 and congressmen have to deal with the bill possibly when session resumes on April 13.

During that same period, Nograles expressed hope that the bill on the decriminalization of libel would be in its advance stage of House approval.

Defensor also pointed out that the House decided to reconsider the second reading approval of the proposed bill on decriminalization of libel.

“It was not recommitted to the committee level. In effect there was no second reading approval yet of the libel measure,” Defensor explained.

The Speaker disclosed that the Senate passed its version of the RORB in July 2008 on a unanimous 21-0 vote. He added that there appeared to be no objection from the media about the proposal authored by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Abante, for his part, said the House version of the measure is replete with various amendments that would guarantee that the freedom of the press is protected.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club (NPC) has warned that it will not hesitate to elevate the constitutionally-infirm RORB to the Supreme Court once Congress approves it and President Arroyo signs it into law.

NPC director Joel Sy Egco said there was no need to pass the measure because practicing journalists have been seeking both sides in the news stories they write about.

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