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Palace FOI bill won’t require ‘pork barrel’ info


08:25 AM February 5th, 2012

By: Norman Bordadora, February 5th, 2012 08:25 AM

MANILA, Philippines—How lawmakers utilize their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel isn’t on the list of public interest documents required to be disclosed on the Aquino administration’s version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, a member of the good governance cluster of the Cabinet, said this was because the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) was already disclosing PDAF-related information of House members on its website.

Abad nonetheless said the administration would welcome an amendment to the bill for a more explicit disclosure requirement of the lawmakers’ pork barrel.

Undersecretary Abigail Valte, President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson, for her part, maintained that the Palace FOI bill still wouldn’t exempt members of Congress from having to reveal online their use of their PDAF as the pertinent provisions of the proposed transparency measure would still require them to do so.

“The disclosure of PDAF allotments, obligations and disbursements would fall under the information that the DBM is mandatorily obliged to disclose, as we are in fact already doing under our e-tails program,” Abad said in a text message to the Inquirer.

“But we welcome, as an amendment to the Palace-endorsed FOI bill, a more explicit disclosure requirement on PDAF allocations and uses for the DBM and Congress,” he said.

Both Abad and Valte are members of the administration’s study group that conducted discussions with government executives, security officials, media professionals and other stakeholders to come up with a generally accepted version of the transparency measure.

Online posting

Valte said disclosure on the use of pork barrel funds under the Palace’s FOI bill fell under the item on annual procurement plans and procurement lists that would have to be posted online.

“It should fall under the general provision for the items in the public interest documents enumeration,” Valte said.

Valte, a lawyer, said the mandatory disclosure provisions would require all government agencies to upload on their websites public interest documents or records that include the agencies’ annual procurement plans and annual procurement lists.

She added that the proposed bill’s definition of government agencies included those in all the branches of government, including the legislature.

Part of a legacy

“Right now, the web site of the (DBM) already has this function,” Valte said.

In revealing his submission to Congress of his administration’s version of the FOI bill, President Aquino indicated that he wanted the FOI’s transparency provisions to be a part of his legacy.

“We want every other administration voted into power to work under the same standard of transparency and accountability that we have set for ourselves. This is a significant step toward achieving that goal,” President Aquino said on Thursday.

Section 7 of the Palace version of the FOI bill provides for the mandatory disclosure on government web sites of the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth of the President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet, Congress, the Supreme Court, constitutional commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with general or flag rank.

Unlike the lawmakers’ use of their PDAF, Section 7 explicitly mentions internal revenue allotment (IRA) utilization on the list of public interest documents that must be uploaded to the government websites.

The IRA is the share of local government units of taxes collected in their respective areas by the government.

Use of public funds

Under the FOI’s mandatory disclosure provision, documents involving the use of public funds would also be required to be uploaded on government websites.

These include the annual budgets of government agencies; itemized monthly collections and disbursements; summary of incomes and expenditures; use of the internal revenue allotments of local governments; annual procurement plans and procurement lists; items to bid; bid results on civil works, goods and services; abstract of bids as calculated; procurement contracts; construction or concession agreements; private sector participation in agreements or contracts; public funding to a private entity;

Bilateral and multilateral agreements and treaties in trade, economic partnership, investments, cooperation, and similar binding commitments; lists of persons or entities given licenses, permits or agreements for the use of natural resources; statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of public officials; and guarantees given by any government agency to government-owned and controlled corporations, private corporations, persons or entities.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño said on Saturday Malacañang’s much-ballyhooed FOI bill was nothing but a watered-down version of the FOI measures pending in Congress.

Casiño, principal author of one of the FOI bills filed in the House of Representatives, said the Palace did not offer any new provisions that would strengthen the measure which would ensure the public’s right to government information.

He cited for example a provision on the publication of the SALN of all public officials that was already provided for in House Bill No. 133 which he authored and filed on the first day of the 15th Congress in July 2010.

Already included

Casiño said this provision, along with another on the mandatory posting on the web sites of government agencies of all documents of public interest and concern, was already included in the FOI bills pending in the House committee on public information chaired by Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone.

“What is really significant in the Palace version is its watering down of the FOI by including a long list of 16 exceptions to the measure to include ‘records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation, invoked by the Chief Executive to be privileged…,’” he said.

The lawmaker also said that in the Palace version, information relating to law enforcement and defense had six exceptions, giving police and defense officials very wide leeway in hiding information on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. With a report from Cynthia D. Balana

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