By Charissa Luci
The House Committee on Public Information unanimously approved on Wednesday, February 15, a substitute bill seeking to uphold and strengthen the people’s right to information with due regard to the full protection of the right to privacy of individuals.
The panel, chaired by the ACT Teachers partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio, passed the proposed Freedom of Information Act to ensure full public disclosure of all the government’s transactions involving public interest, subject to the procedures and limitations provided by law.
“Access to official records, and to 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 consistent with this Act,” according to the bill.
The Tinio panel also endorsed the substitute bill, which is a consolidation of 33 bills, for plenary discussions.
Tinio said he is expecting the final passage of the FOI Act to happen “within the year”, lamenting that the FOI has been languishing in Congress for nearly three decades now.
He cited that the bill is similar to Executive Order No. 2 signed by President Duterte on July 23, 2016, which seeks full public disclosure in the executive branch of government.
The bill provides that national officials— President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, members of the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices and officers of the Armed Forces with general or flag rank shall disclose to the public their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) on an annual basis on their official website.
The substitute bill also provides the publication of government data in the Open Data Philippine website, which shall be maintained and administered by a Task Force under the Office of the President.
Among the exceptions proposed under the House version include national security; law enforcement documents; documents with secrecy provisions; those exempted by statutes; trade secrets; confidential documents; legal professional privilege; and personal memos.
The bill mandates the government offices not to charge any fee for accepting requests for access to information. They may, however, charge a reasonable fee to reimburse necessary costs, including actual costs of reproduction and copying of the information requested, subject to existing rules and regulations.
Administrative and criminal liabilities shall be slapped against the violators of the proposed Act.
Among the public interest documents or records that shall be published in government agencies’ websites are annual budget, itemized monthly collections and disbursements, summary of income and expenditures, annual procurement plan and procurement list, items for bidding, abstract of bids, procurement contracts entered into by a government agency; construction or concession agreements or contracts entered into by a government agency with any public service contractor or domestic or foreign person or entity; and private sector participation agreement or contracts in infrastructure and development projects.
Also to be published are bilateral or multilateral agreements and treaties in trade, economic partnership, investments, cooperation and similar binding commitments; utilization of the Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA), Special Education Fund, Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund, Local Development Fund and other Local Government Unit (LGU) funds; and loans from domestic and foreign financial institutions and loads , grants for development assistance, technical assistance, utilization of all forms of donations for calamity-stricken areas and programs entered into by a government agency with official bilateral or multilateral agencies, as well as with private aid agencies or institutions.