Speedy passage of FOI bill pushed


A signature drive was launched Wednesday to speed up the passage of a transparency bill as proponents fear too much politics might get in the way.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a proponent of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, said the progress of the bill is being hampered by the dynamics at the House of Representatives, which has failed to pass a transparency law for over two decades.

“We have 288 representatives. There are groups that do not agree on some of the provisions. For instance, (one bloc) does not agree on certain provisions which the Malacañang wants such as the executive privilege. They also want clarifications on what ‘national security’ means,”Baguilat said at the launch of the Tayona Para sa FOI signature campaign on Wednesday.

He said some groups also disagree on controversial provisions such as the exceptions. The provisions set the limitations on and guidelines for information that cannot be publicly disclosed for national security and foreign policy reasons.

 Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat signs the Tayo na Para sa FOI online petition. (Photo by JANE DASAL)
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat signs the Tayo na Para sa FOI online petition. (Photo by JANE DASAL)

The bill is still with the technical working group (TWG) of the House Committee on Public Information, which is tasked to consolidate the various versions of the FOI bill in the chamber before it is deliberated at the committee level.

In 2012, Malacañang submitted to the House a substitute of the Freedom of Information Bill which includes executive privilege in the list of exceptions.

Executive privilege covers “records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision making or policy formulation, invoked by the Chief Executive to be privileged” may not be accessed by the public.

Despite the disagreements on the provision on exceptions, Baguilat said the members of the TWG have reached an agreement on the bill’s other measures.

Rep. Megan Antonino’s bill, for example, did not initially provide for the mandatory disclosure of the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). “But we reached a compromise in the TWG to remove mandatory disclosures of private information in the SALN,” Baguilat said.

He said, however,the TWG will not finish consolidating the bills in June.

With the current status of the FOI bill, lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan, lead convenor of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition,said Malacañang and Congress must work together to hasten its passage.

“It is now the fourth year of President (Benigno) Aquino’s administration. The FOI has not even been in the list of executive priorities in the last two years. We want to address this concern through a letter to President Aquino and Speaker (Feliciano) Belmonte,” Malaluan said.

He said the letter, together with signatures of FOI supporters gathered through an online petition, will be forwarded to both officials on July 21, one week before the President’s State of the Nation Address.

Malaluan said the online campaign will be done simultaneously with efforts to collect signatures from those without Internet access.

“The public strongly understands the need for the FOI. This will give them the chance to voice out their demand for the passage of the FOI bill,” he said.

(The author is a University of the Philippines students writing for VERA Files as part of her internship.)