Another challenge emerged on Monday for the freedom of information (FOI) bill, which has a narrow eight-day window to get through final reading in the House of Representatives.
Militant lawmakers on Monday said they would withdraw their coauthorship of the FOI bill in the House, noting that the latest version would impose more restrictions than propagate transparency and accountability in the government.
Seven members of the Makabayan coalition warned that the substitute bill currently pending in the House incorporates proposed exemptions to full disclosure put forth by Malacañang, which would dilute the essence of the measure that is intended to make the workings of public officials transparent to the people.
Among the contested exceptions are those pertaining to matters to be invoked as executive privilege and internal or external defense or law enforcement matters.
The House is expected to tackle the FOI bill Tuesday, giving it only eight session days to be discussed and voted on until Congress adjourns for the campaign period. Disappointed supporters of the bill walked out of the plenary yesterday when they learned it was not in the order of business.
The Senate has already passed its version of the bill.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said in a press conference the inclusion of executive privilege as an exception has very broad parameters, especially when it comes to classifying data as sensitive. It could just be dependent on the personal preference of the Chief Executive, he said.
“We know that during the time of (former President) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, executive privilege was used to hide pieces of evidence on the NBN-ZTE contract,” he said, referring to the scuttled National Broadband Network deal with China that was later found to be overpriced.
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said exceptions for law enforcement operations could be also used to cover many police activities.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said the bill’s provision giving heads of agencies the discretion to determine if a piece of information should be kept secret could prove restrictive especially if the official would choose to be cautious.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also warned that the many exceptions would just allow many government officials to find a way out of disclosing important public matters.