FOI exceptions down to ‘not more than 10’
The good news is that the official rollout of the freedom of information (FOI) program of the executive branch will start on Nov. 25.
The bad news is that there are exceptions although these will be reduced from 166 to “not more than 10.”
Assistant Secretary Christian Ablan of the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) on Tuesday said exceptions covered in the FOI manual to be rolled out in November would be limited to 10 “digestible exceptions.”
“We are merely following the example of other countries,” Ablan said at a hearing
of the public information
committee of the House of Representatives.
He noted similar policies in the United States and Australia that each identified only nine exceptions to the body of information that may be made accessible to the public.
Security, trade secrets
Some of these exemptions covered national security, law enforcement, trade secrets and finance documents, legal and professional privileges, and interagency memorandums, Ablan told the committee chaired by ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio.
“Of course, some exceptions may be broad,” applying to many of the earlier recommendations by government agencies whose opinions were sought on which information to withhold the public, he added.
In July, President Duterte signed an executive order mandating full public disclosure of information in all offices under the executive branch, except those falling under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law, or jurisprudence.
A month later, a draft FOI manual issued by the PCO identified 166 exceptions recommended by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General, including national security and law enforcement matters, personal information, trade secrets and bank records.
Ablan said the final list of 10 or so FOI exceptions would be released by the Office of the Executive Secretary by the end of this week or next week.
The official rollout of the FOI program shall start on Nov. 25, though government agencies already capable of processing FOI requests may do so before then.
At the House, lawmakers have filed 30 bills for an enabling law on FOI after several failed attempts in past Congresses.
On Tuesday, Tinio’s committee created a technical working group to harmonize and consolidate all 30 proposed measures on FOI.
Right to info, privacy
It also heard feedback from national agencies on the viability of an FOI law, including from the newly created National Privacy Commission, whose commissioner Raymond Liboro raised concerns about
a possible conflict between right to information and privacy rights.
“Government is the biggest repository and collector of private information, and citizens have both the right to information and the right to privacy. It is our duty to protect both rights,” Liboro said.
Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta said he understood the “overeagerness” to pass the FOI bill, considering the public clamor for it.
But he warned that the constitutional provision protecting the people’s right to information might clash with another more vital constitutional provision protecting “human dignity.”
In allowing certain information to be revealed to the public, “people’s dignities and reputation” may be smashed, he said.
Most of the lawmakers at the committee hearing, however, were supportive of the bill. In his sponsorship, Cibac Rep. Sherwin Tugna noted how “secrecy in government” could make corruption flourish.
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