Philippine Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) in Progress
The author of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) in the House of Representatives maintained that the measure remains a work in progress.
Speaking in a recent forum with members of the academe at the Ateneo de Davao University here, Representative Lorenzo Tanada III revealed that for the past 12 years, this measure has experienced strong opposition in the lower chamber.
He said even if the proposed bill is provided for in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, there are still moves to derail its passage especially during the 14th Congress when it was brushed aside by the congressional leadership allegedly due to the lack of quorum.
“On the last day of session of the 14th Congress when we had more than the quorum of the members of congress since it was graduation day for representatives who finished three terms, the FOI bill which was one of the agenda, was never ratified with the congress leadership made it appear that there was no quorum,” he said.
Tanada said even the current 15th Congress, the FOI proposed bill continues to encounter difficulties, adding that from January to June, 2012, the committee on public information held only one hearing.
“It happens even with the support expressed by the President on the measure,” Tanada said.
He disclosed that Rep.Rudy Antonino of Nueva Ecija wanted to include a section of the bill, the right to reply, where persons being pinpointed in any news report should be allowed to reply in any medium where the story came out. His position on this concern is that no two subjects must be integrated in one bill.
“This can be voted on in the committee level, and I believe most of the committee will agree that it is violative of the constitution,” he said.
Tanada also disclosed that Rep.Pedro Romualdo of Camiguin wanted to include FOI imposed on private corporations. Under the Bill of Rights, right information is demanded solely for people in government and not on private corporations.
“These are concerns that must be discussed separately,” he said.
Tanada agreed to the proposal of Rep. Lani Mercado of Cavite to sue individuals using the correct information wrongly against a particular person.
He said looking at the Senate version of the FOI, there is a provision which cites to penalize persons who use correct information wrongly against any person.
“It entails responsibility in using correct information,” Tanada said.
He said the study group of Malacanang wants that the issue on national security be excluded in the FOI proposed measure. The recommendation is acceptable, although Malacanang did not clearly define national security.
“They left it to the wisdom of congress what national security is,” he said.
Malacanang also wants to exclude information shared during executive sessions especially during the crafting of a new government policy to ensure free-flow of exchange of ideas among cabinet members.
But the committee position is that all the minutes of the deliberation that leads to the crafting of a policy decision must be subjected to public scrutiny.
Malacanang also recommended the mandatory posting of the Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Networth (SALN) of government officials in the offices they are working like the president, vice president, members of senate, congress, cabinet, the constitutional commission, Office of the Ombudsman and one-star rank generals and above in the police and the military.
“It is now obligatory for personalities in these offices to post their SALN,” he said.
Tanada said this must be one of the provisions that is discomforting to some government officials. Hoping that the FOI bill will be discussed further by the committee on public information on August 7, when pending legislative matters are deliberated.
He said after the 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the President, the plenary session in the House will discuss the pending bills from July 24 up to the last day of August. On the first week of September, the sessions will deal more on budget deliberation for 2013.