Santiago warns of conflicts in freedom of information bills
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has warned proponents of the Freedom of Information Bill to brace themselves for constitutional questions that may be filed against the transparency measure in the Supreme Court.
Santiago raised the issue on Monday when she interpellated bill sponsor Senator Grace Poe. The senator, who claims to be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, made one of her rare appearances in the chamber to join the FOI debate.
Santiago said she was an ardent supporter of the FOI bill but noted two provisions in the Bill of Rights which might clash with each other in the proposed new law: the privacy of communications and the right to information.
She said the issue should be resolved before the bill is passed into law.
“Under the Bill of Rights, on the one hand, the provision of communications and correspondence shall be inviolable. On the other hand, the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized,” Santiago said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We have to be able to finish the antagonism between these two provisions lest critics question the constitutionality of the FOI law in the Supreme Court,” she added.
Santiago said the FOI bill should be reconciled with the existing Data Privacy Act and other laws.
Santiago said that in some countries, freedom of information laws cover information only when it is under control of the state.
Santiago added that certain communications are considered confidential such as those of the President of the Philippines, who has the “presidential communication privilege,” and other executive officials who are entitled to the “deliberative process privilege.”
“The Senate should be careful because the presidential communications privilege is a form of executive privilege and is rooted in the separation of powers,” Santiago said, citing the case of U.S. v. Nixon in the United States.
Santiago also cited Philippine jurisprudence, including the 2012 Chavez v. Public Estates Authority, and the 2008 case of Neri v. Senate.
In her interpellation, Santiago said that the FOI Bill should consider the “deliberative process privilege” to prevent premature disclosure of decisions, and to preserve the quality of decision-making.
Santiago suggested that the FOI include among its exceptions those already provided under the National Internal Revenue Code, AIDS Prevention and Control Act, and Inter-Country Adoption Act, “in addition to information provided by foreign governments.”
Santiago added that a previous Supreme Court ruling stressed the provision in the Philippine Mining Act requiring the DENR “to maintain the confidentiality of confidential information supplied by contractors who are parties to mineral agreements.”
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