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Senate starts plenary debates on FOI bill

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Senate starts plenary debates on FOI bill

By: - Reporter / @MAgerINQ
/ 06:01 PM December 11, 2013

MANILA, Philippines –  The Senate has begun plenary debates  on the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) that would give the public access to government records.

Senator  Grace Poe, head of the  committee on public  information, defended the bill when the chamber started its debates on the floor Tuesday.

Among the senators who interpellated  Poe Tuesday were Majority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara and Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.

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But it was Sotto, an opposition  member,  who raised concerns  over the bill’s apparent lack of safeguards  on  information that  could be accessed in the websites.

Under the bill,  all government agencies  are  mandated  to upload on their websites their annual budget, itemized monthly collections and disbursement, summary of income and expenditures; items to bid, bid results; procurement contract; construction or concession agreements or contract, among others.

Sotto  warned however  that  accessing information online  might  be prone to abuse.

“At the outset,  I feel this is a very laudable bill. As a matter of fact in the 15th Congress, we passed it, we approved it. But there are  new developments and some insights that  we’d like to clarify,”  he said.

While  the bill provides  a 15-day period for a government agency  to  reply to a request  for information, Sotto noted that  online  access  did not  provide  any  time frame.

Unlike  an individual requesting information in person, he said,  the proposed measure also allows  anyone to access  information  uploaded  online  without even knowing  his or her identity.

“If it’s online, it should be accessible  outright, immediately. To who?” Sotto asked Poe.

“To anybody requesting information…it will be instantaneous. But of course if it’s not automatically uploaded in the website then that agency, government’s office will have 15 days (to reply to the request),”  Poe answered.

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“That’s my problem, Mr. President. Do we have  safeguards for this because georgebush@yahoo.com can access your website and just try to get information,” Sotto said.

“Pag personal information desk, maa-identify mo. Pag online, hindi mo maa-identify kung hacker yan, namemerhuwesyo yan, kung blackmailer yan…”  he added.

But Poe  said government agencies  should  make  sure that  their websites  have security measures  in  place against hacking.

There was also a suggestion, she said that those who can obtain information from government offices should be a taxpayer and a citizen of the Philippines.

“But when we think about information, and even in other countries  that have FOI, citizenship  is not a requirement because information is so difficult also to obtain so that’s why we’ve been prudent in enumerating the actual exemption to make sure that we have  a safeguard in place when it comes to national security issues …”  Poe said.

Nevertheless,  she said her committee would be open to any suggestion to ensure that online access to information would not be abused.

Deliberations were suspended Tuesday and resumed this Wednesday.

Sotto predicted the passage of the  bill early next year.

Related stories

Grace Poe sees passage of FOI bill in Senate

House urged to start deliberations on FOI bill 

Belmonte: FOI bill will be passed before 2016

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