Poe allays Palace fears on FOI
If it ain’t hiding anything, Malacañang has nothing to fear about the freedom of information (FOI) bill, Sen. Grace Poe said on Friday.
Poe said the controversies surrounding the administration’s economic stimulus program, and even the high court justices’ wealth could have been avoided had the FOI been in place before.
Under an FOI regime, the Department of Budget and Management would have uploaded information about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) on its website, putting it under public scrutiny, Poe said.
And early on, the public could have questioned its legality before the Supreme Court, averting any further controversy, she pointed out.
The FOI would have required the uploading of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of top government officials, including Supreme Court justices, on websites, Poe said.
The Supreme Court justices, voting 13-0, struck down some provisions of the DAP as unconstitutional on July 1.
The justices had also come under the spotlight for rejecting the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s request for copies of their SALNs, saying this lacked merit.
“Why should they be afraid if they’re not hiding anything?” Poe said by phone. “We’ve put enough safeguards.”
In a taped interview with Bombo Radyo, President Benigno Aquino III has maintained that he would not certify the FOI bill as urgent, saying its approval was not a matter of national emergency.
But neither would he block it, since the executive department could live by the version it submitted to Congress, Mr. Aquino stressed.
The President earlier assured that the measure would be enacted before he steps down in June 2016.
The Senate approved in March its version of the bill that grants public access to government records. The House of Representatives is still tackling its version.
FOI bill, which is based on a person’s right to information on matters of public concern, covers the entire bureaucracy.
The Senate version’s salient provisions include the mandatory posting of SALNs of all government officials of up to salary grade 27, Poe said.
The FOI bill also requires the posting on government websites of projects worth P50 million and above in accordance with the antiplunder law, as well as vacancies.
The goal is to allow the public to access opportunities in government.
Poe remained optimistic the measure would be passed during Aquino’s term, citing the fact that it was included in the administration’s priority legislation.
Before 2016 polls
But she reckoned that this should be approved before the campaign period for the May 2016 national elections kicks in. Otherwise, most of the lawmakers would be out in the countryside campaigning.
“I hope it gets passed before everyone is hit by campaign mood,” she said.
The legislation, a consolidation of several measures filed by senators, provides relevant exceptions.
These include national security, information pertaining to foreign relations, law enforcement operations, matters pertaining to privacy of an individual, trade and economic secrets, privileged information in judicial proceedings, information made in executive sessions of Congress, and matters covered by presidential privilege, among others.
In the bill, the term “national security” was expanded to cover health pandemics and similar situation.