In The Know: The FOI Bill
During the 14th Congress, the Senate ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill but the House of Representatives failed to do so due to a lack of quorum on its last session day.
Several versions of FOI bill were filed in the 15th Congress and have been pending at the committee level in both the House and the Senate.
The measure seeks to allow the public to obtain records of government transactions, meetings and other businesses, a right enshrined in the Constitution.
The measure also provides a definite procedure in dealing with requests for information and seeks to penalize officials denying access to information, according to House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, a principal author of the FOI bill.
However, there are proposed exceptions to what can be disclosed to the public, such as the following:
- Information relating to national defense when its revelation will cause grave damage to the internal and external defense of the State;
- Information pertaining to foreign affairs when its revelation unduly weakens the diplomatic relations of the Philippines with one or more states and the position of the government in an ongoing bilateral or multilateral agreement;
- Personal information of a person other than the requesting party and its disclosure would constitute clearly unwarranted invasion of his or her personal privacy;
- Information obtained in executive sessions of the legislature.
President Benigno Aquino III, who had promised to support the bill during the 2010 presidential campaign, had expressed reservations over the measure.
“You know, having a freedom of information act sounds so good and noble but at the same time—I think you’ll notice that here in this country—there’s a tendency to get information and not really utilizing it for the proper purposes,” he said during an open forum at the gathering of Southeast Asian leaders last September.
The Aquino administration has crafted a four-year good governance and anticorruption plan that will run from 2012 to 2016. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who presented the plan to the media last Tuesday, said that the transparency policy being set was “setting the ground and laying the foundation of a meaningful FOI law.” Ana Roa, Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives, www.congress.gov.ph