It has been nearly 16 years since the first initiative to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill failed to be ratified by the House of Representatives because of lack of support.
The tides turned, however, when then Presidential Candidate Benigno Aquino III proclaimed his support for the FOI bill, which was more popularly known then as Senate Bill No. 3208 dubbed, People’s Ownership of Government Information or Pogi Bill.
Aquino, in his campaign, argued that pushing for the FOI bill as part of his “Daang Matuwid” campaign would reduce corruption in the government. Chances that the bill would be passed increased after Aquino won the elections.
Three years later, lack of support from Malacañang and the senate are just some of the factors that contributed to the 15th Congress’ failure to pass the bill. Several house bills (HBs), which include HB 53, 11, 22, 59, 86, 133, 301, 830, 1713, 1968, 2128 and 2969, have been proposed to no avail.
Recent events such as Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment case and the death of Former Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Jesse Robredo, however, have prompted the Aquino administration to draft a proposed FOI bill.
The FOI bill, if or when it is approved, would allow each Filipino citizen access to government records. As many of the front-runners of the bill may see it, this FOI bill will promote transparency within the Philippine government. In addition, government records that contain statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of government officials would also be made public.
According to the proposed version, all Filipino citizens would have access to the government information, which could be requested from government agencies. Moreover, the bill will give Filipinos the right to request all information that pertains to official acts, transactions or decisions. The bill would also give the public access to research data for policy development regardless of the physical form or format.
While the bill will increase the number of documents for public viewing, the bill also has restrictions. Under the proposed bill, information such as those explicitly deemed as secret by an executive order, opinions of stakeholders during debates, personal information of natural persons, and information exempted by the constitution or rule of the courts cannot be released by government agencies.
Versions and difference
The Lower House and Senate have their own versions of the bill, mainly differentiated by bill exceptions. The proposed version of the Aquino administration was drafted to meet and consolidate the bills.
While the stipulations that pertain to the exceptions such as the aforementioned stipulations, the proposed bill is different. The proposed bill called the Freedom of Information Act of 2012 would expand the public’s access to financial information of elected officials. Moreover, the new bill would also reduce the trouble expected with the processing of information since data and information would come from different departments and agencies.
Access to information would hence not be efficient. According to the bill, information would be available on the Official Gazette website. In addition, all agencies would be required to produce a Freedom of Information Manual that would contain details and procedures from request of information to release.
Under Article III of the 1987 Constitution, Section 7 highlights, “The right of the people to information of matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records and documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”
The bill’s principal author Deputy Speaker Rep. Erin Tañada, along with Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. and Rep. Sherwin Tugna, all vowed to push for the bill’s approval as part of their campaign in this year’s mid-term elections.
The Philippines ranked 147 out of 179 countries in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, a seven-place drop from 2012. One of the reasons pointed to by Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) is the government’s lack of support for the FOI bill.