FOI bill hurdles House committee level
The freedom of information (FOI) bill hurdled the committee level in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
All members of the public information committee approved the substitute bill which seeks to strengthen the people’s right to information from government officials and agencies.
In a statement, committee chairperson Act Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said he hopes the FOI bill would get the support of the House leadership in the 17th Congress.
“We are working for the swift enactment into law of the FOI bill, considering that this is one of the priorities of the Duterte administration. In record time, we have been able to consolidate 35 proposed measures. Today, we approved the FOI bill at the committee level,” Tinio said.
“We hope that, with the support of the House leadership, we will soon be able to take up the FOI Bill in plenary,” he added, noting that an FOI law needs to be passed to legislate a policy of full public disclosure.
The bill covers all government agencies in the executive, legislative and judicial branches; the constitutional bodies of all agencies, departments, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities of the national government; constitutional commissions and constitutionally mandated bodies; local governments and all their agencies; regulatory agencies; chartered institutions; government-owned and -controlled corporations; government financial institutions; state universities and colleges; Armed Forces of the Philippines; Philippine National Police; all offices in the Congress, Supreme Court and all lower courts.
The bill also provides for a mandatory disclosure of information in the Statements of Assets and Liabilities Networth (SALN) of the following officials in their respective websites: President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet, members of Congress, Justices of Supreme Court, members of Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices; and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank.
The bill said there should be a legal presumption of every citizen’s right to information.
However, the request for information may be denied if it falls under the following exceptions: if it relates to national security or defense; if it pertains to the country’s foreign affairs; if it will disclose investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes; if it pertains to a testimony, report, document or discussion obtained during an executive session in Congress; if it pertains to personal information of a person; if it pertains to trade secrets and commercial or financial information or intellectual property; if it is classified as privileged communication in legal proceedings.
The information that could adversely affect the financial market are also exempted in the FOI, under the following conditions: if it could be used for fraud, manipulation, or other unlawful acts or schemes involving financial instruments; if its disclosure could impede the implementation of a proposed official action of a foreign government agency regulating the financial institutions and financial market; if it pertains to condition or business of banks and non-bank financial institutions; if the information is necessary in the performance of the independent central monetary authority.
Any official convicted of violating the freedom of information may face criminal and administrative sanctions – an imprisonment of not less than one month to not more than six months, with accessory penalty of dismissal from service.
The FOI bill has been languishing in Congress for around three decades already.
In the 16th Congress, the bill was able to hurdle the public information and appropriations committees, but it was not able to reach the plenary for sponsorship, debate and amendment.
The bill failed to reach the plenary as it was trumped by the debates on the Aquino administration’s pet bill, the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The closest thing the FOI saw the light of day was in the 14th Congress in 2010, when it hurdled the bicameral conference and was supposed to be ratified in the House. But the lack of quorum killed the FOI bill.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez vowed that the 17th Congress would pass the FOI bill, following the footsteps of President Rodrigo Duterte who signed an executive order on freedom of information covering only the executive branch of government.