Poe: Weak FOI law worse than Aquino’s inaction
MANILA, Philippines—A weak freedom of information (FOI) law and not President Aquino’s disinterest in it is what has Sen. Grace Poe concerned.
Poe said that even without the President’s certification of the measure as urgent, pressure from the mainstream and social media would drive members of the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and approve their version of the bill.
“What worries me more is not actually passing it. What I’d like to make sure is that they pass a strong FOI version and the bicameral version that would be passed is not a diluted version of our intent to pass a strong FOI bill,” she said in an interview.
Should the House pass an FOI bill, its version and that of the Senate would go to the bicameral conference committee composed of members from both chambers who will thresh out the bills to come up with a single version that will be brought to the President for his signature signifying enactment.
Poe, the sponsor of the bill the Senate passed on Monday, said she would have wanted the President to certify the measure as urgent, although there was “sufficient support” to get it through the legislative mill.
She wasn’t “discouraged” by the noncertification, she said, and neither should the House.
“For the lower House, I think even without the certification, the pressure from the public, from the media will motivate them to work faster,” she said. “The people will be the ones pushing this bill.”
Sen. Vicente Sotto III said the noncertification by Aquino should not pose a problem to the bill’s passage in the House.
“The only reason a bill is favored if it’s certified as urgent is when you lack material time to pass it on third reading. Other than that it’s not necessary in order to pass a measure,” he said in an interview.
Even after 21 senators out of 24 voted to approve the bill that would grant the public access to information held by the government, Malacañang continued to stand by the President’s position not to certify it as urgent.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. instead pressed advocates of the measure to exert pressure on the House to pass its version.
Senate Bill No. 1733 recognizes every citizen’s right to access information of public concern from government agencies.
It places the burden on the agencies to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the information requested falls under the exceptions.
These exceptions include information pertaining to national security and foreign affairs; minutes of decision-making or policy formulation; information on internal and external defense and on human security; drafts of orders, resolutions, decisions and audit reports.
Other exceptions are information obtained in an executive session of Congress; personal and sensitive information of a person; trade secrets; classified privileged communication; information protected by the antimoney laundering law; information whose premature disclosure could lead to speculation in currencies, interest rates, securities or commodities, among others.
Poe said the Senate managed to pass the bill without the President’s certification, thanks to public pressure.
“With the participation of our citizens, which is social media-driven, we’re able to institute change without necessarily following the normal process,” she said.
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