No more hope for FOI, anti-dynasty bills
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives will hold final plenary sessions this week without much optimism that landmark bills including the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) can be passed.

Congress adjourns before the weekend for the 90-day electoral campaign.

While the legislative calendar states that Congress will adjourn on Friday, sessions will be only from today until Wednesday, leaving the House with little time to act on the BBL, FOI Bill, anti-political dynasty bill and other measures.

Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II pointed to the lack of a quorum as the main hindrance to the passage of key bills or even voting on them.

“Everybody’s been busy with the elections since last year, so mustering a quorum is a very difficult task for the leadership of the House,” Gonzales said.

The BBL, which seeks to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao, is still in the period of amendments and there is no certainty whether it could be put to a vote this week.

Even in the remote possibility that the BBL hurdles the House, the Senate still has to deliberate on it.

Deputy Speaker and Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, one of the proponents of the BBL, told reporters last week he was willing to settle for its passage in the House if only to send a message that hope is not lost and quell the rising disgruntlement in Mindanao over Congress’ foot-dragging on the measure.

The House’s slow action on the FOI bill is being attributed to lack of support from President Aquino, who in his 2010 campaign had promised its passage.

The FOI bill has been passed by the committee on public information nine months ago but it has not been acted upon by the plenary.

Aquino has also blocked Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.’s Resolution of Both Houses No. 1, which seeks to ease economic restrictions in the Constitution to attract investments.

The passage of the anti-political dynasty bill, which has been languishing in Congress for over two decades, also remains dim due to opposition from lawmakers who belong to political clans.

The House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms was set to approve the measure and endorse it for second reading approval in plenary last year but many lawmakers wanted to relax the limitations set by the bill.

Under the present version, only two members of a political family would be allowed to occupy elective office at the same time.

All other relatives would be banned from running in an election, whether national or local, as long as the two are in office.

However, congressmen who belong to political dynasties want the proposed restriction eased to allow more family members to seek office in other districts, provinces, cities or towns that are far from the incumbents’ influence.

Authors of the bill said the original version would adversely affect at least 150 or more than half of the 287-member House.

But despite quorum woes, Belmonte and Gonzales said the chamber managed to pass in the past weeks key socio-economic measures.

These include the institutionalization of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino or conditional cash transfer program, strengthening the Public-Private Partnership program, and removing restrictions in the Foreign Investment Negative List.

The chamber also passed the bill that allows local government units to acquire land for low-cost housing.

The bill, authored by Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez, is widely seen as one of the measures that could address the proliferation of informal settlers.

The House passed the bill that makes poll duties optional for public school teachers.

It is also expected to approve this week the measure extending the life of the Claims Board by two years or until May 12, 2018 to give all legitimate martial law human rights victims access to recognition and reparation.

House Bill 6412 seeks to provide full access to the victims for reparation and recognition of the sufferings and sacrifices that they endured during martial law, authors of the bill stressed.

Reps. Ibarra Gutierrez III, Angelina Katoh and Jose Christopher Belmonte authored the bill.

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