Poe’s panel wraps up FOI hearings, sees passage before year ends
After conducting two hearings, the Senate committee on public information and mass media chaired by Senator Grace Poe concluded on Thursday its public hearings on the Freedom of Information bill.
“As I have mentioned in my opening remarks, we have already unanimously passed the FOI bill in the last Congress in record time. I think that we will be able to immediately come up with a committee report and sponsor this soon,” Poe said before adjourning the second hearing of the committee.
The committee held its first hearing last September 19.
“With this, I think it is safe to say that this should be our final public hearing for the Freedom of Information before we submit our recommendation to the plenary. This hearing is happily adjourned,” said Poe.
The senator said she hopes to pass the bill at the Senate before the year ends.
“Sa tingin ko maisusumite na natin dahil sa tingin ko naman hindi malalayo ito doon sa bersyon na naipasa na sa Senado kaya ako’y umaasa na ito’y mapapasa bago matapos ang taon,” she said in an interview after the hearing.
(I think we will be able to submit it because the version is not far from the one passed in the Senate, that’s why I am hoping that this would be passed before the year ends.)
The same measure was passed by the Senate during the 16th Congress but not in the House of Representatives.
During the hearing, police and military officials posed no objection on the passage of the bill.
“Our concern only is for documents with national security implications, internal and external Ma’am. So we have documents that must be protected and shall not be opened for scrutiny for the public,” Colonel Wilredo Villahermosa, chief of the Plans and Programs Policy Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, told the committee.
Police Supt. Walter Castillejo of the Philippine National Police said they had no objections, saying that “all the exemptions, access to information” had already been discussed.
The Department of National Defense (DND), for its part, maintained its position that “official records, documents and papers pertinent to official acts, transactions or decisions must be made accessible to the public in keeping with the Constitutional right of the people to information on matters of public concern and in the spirit of transparency and good governance.”
“Nevertheless, the department subscribes to the exemption that state secrets bearing on the specifically sensitive national security and defense matters and those identified by the President in Executive Order No. 2 dated July 2, 2016 must be kept confidential and deemed privileged information,” DND Undersecretary Eduardo Del Rosario said, reading from a prepared statement.
“It’s highly imperative that these matters be strictly kept from public access and only availed of by policy and decision makers whose assessments are vital to national security interests,” he said.
Del Rosario said the DND also supports the institutionalization of an “effective mechanism that may allow access to certain information with national security implications to both chambers of Congress through an executive session.”
But Poe pointed out that the bill, once passed into law, will supersede the EO issued by President Rodrigo Duterte that allows public access to documents and information in all government agencies under the Office of the President.
READ: Duterte signs FOI order
“So there are certain presidential communications privileges that will be adhered to but again our version of the Freedom of Information points out that it cannot be used to cover up a wrong doing,” she said.
“And perhaps also with the DND, when it comes to national security, we may have a period of declassification. For example, maybe after 15 years, it depends. We will deliberate upon that. I think it’s vital because it should be part of historical records that future generations will be able to look back and study how our leaders were able to come up with a decision so this is part of it,” Poe added. CDG