House public info chair calls for support for FOI bill funding
The new chairperson of the House of Representatives public information committee on Tuesday called on her colleagues to fast track the approval of the freedom of information (FOI) bill, which has been languishing in Congress for decades already.
In a press conference, Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy said the FOI bill which recently hurdled the public information panel has yet to be tackled for funding by the appropriations committee.
She urged her colleagues in the appropriations committee to find the time to discuss funding for the FOI bill while it is also tackling the proposed 2018 national budget.
“As Chairman of the Committee on Public Information, I can only urge my colleagues who sit in the Appropriations Committee to expedite the FOI bill at the soonest. It is understandable though that with the ongoing hearings on the 2018 budget that Appropriations is quite busy,” Herrera-Dy said.
She hoped that the appropriations panel can tackle the FOI bill on the last week of September because the target date for the transmission of the budget bill to the Senate is Sept. 21.
“Let us keep our fingers crossed that it can be taken up on second reading in between the priority measures of the House,” Herrera-Dy said.
She said the bill, approved by the public information panel under the chairpersonship of Act Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and a consolidation of 35 bills, sought to institutionalize the executive order issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on the FOI policy in offices under the executive department.
“We still have to institutionalize the executive order. Kasi ang executive order madaling palitan every time a new president comes in. And that is only for the executive offices of the country,” Herrera-Dy said.
Herrera-Dy said there is not much difference between the said executive order and the FOI House bill when it comes to exceptions to the FOI rule.
“Parang wala namang major difference, but it’s just settled in this one. We want to institutionalize it, hindi lang siya executive order. So, it’s like reflecting also what the EO contained,” she said.
Herrera-Dy said the following are the exceptions to the FOI policy under the bill:
- If it could cause serious damage to national security and our country’s internal and/or external defense;
- If it could unduly weaken our country’s bargaining position in international negotiations or seriously jeopardize diplomatic relations with other countries;
- If it could compromise law enforcement operations and endanger the life of an individual;
- If it is obtained by Congress in executive session;
- If it is within the executive privilege;
- If consists of drafts of the following: orders, resolutions, decisions, memos or audit reports by any executive, administrative, regulatory, constitutional, judicial or quasi-judicial body in exercise of their adjudicatory or audit function;
- If it is a trade secret; and
- If the information requested would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s right to privacy.
According to the bill, administrative and disciplinary sanctions would be imposed against any public official or employee who willfully and knowingly commits the following:
- Refusal to promptly forward the request;
- Failure to act on the request within the periods required by this Act;
- When the claim for refusal is manifestly devoid of factual or legal basis;
- Refusal to comply with the decision of his immediate supervisor, the Ombudsman, or of any court ordering the release of information; and
- Approval of policies, rules and regulations contrary to the provisions of the Act.
Herrera-Dy said a public official or employee would also be held liable for the crime of removal, concealment or destruction of documents under Article 226 of the Revised Penal Code for the following acts: falsely denying or concealing the existence of information mandated for disclosure; and destroying, or causing to be destroyed, information and/or documents.
Herrera-Dy took the helm of chairing the House public information committee after its previous chairperson Tinio was stripped of the post for voting against the administration pet bill on death penalty.
Herrera-Dy said under the bill, even members of Congress are not spared from disclosing fully their statements of assets and liabilities net worth (SALN) for uploading in the agency’s website, subject to the exceptions allowed for in the bill.
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 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 Duterte’s EO on FOI in the executive branch. JE
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