Quantcast
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

Will Aquino deliver on vow to pass FOI?

By

President Aquino: Nothing sure until it’s signed. (Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau)

The Inquirer is running a series of articles on issues facing President Aquino in his fifth State of the Nation Address on July 28. For more on the Sona, go to http://inq.ph/sona2014.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) bills introduced since the 8th Congress do not seek to create the people’s right to information. The right is already recognized in the 1973 Constitution and further strengthened in the 1987 Constitution.

Neither are the bills intended to enable the right. The Supreme Court has long ago declared the constitutional right to be self-executing. The people can exercise the right and, if denied, can seek the court’s assistance to compel an agency to disclose the information requested.

What the proposed FOI Act seeks to do is to complement the constitutional right with substantive and procedural details for a far more effective and predictable enforcement.

The FOI bill provides a limited list of reasonable exceptions and the standard of harm necessary for the exceptions to apply, that will reduce the wide latitude of government in claiming exceptions.

It lays down a definite procedure for responding to requests. After a request is filed, the agency has no more than 15 working days to respond, unless it can prove that the information requested is covered by an exception.

It defines acts subject to administrative and criminal sanctions, providing both deterrence and accountability for violations of the right. It requires agencies to proactively publish important classes of information without need for request, establish record keeping standards, implement capacity building programs and include FOI in school curriculum.

INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

When enacted, the FOI Act can pave the way for transforming the right to information into a real power of the people to participate in decision-making, to secure related rights and to make government and its officials accountable for the use of taxpayer money and the exercise of authority.

Political resistance

Difficulty in finding the appropriate balance on the above provisions has resulted in the protracted deliberations on FOI. However, several Congresses made possible exhaustive discussions, and stakeholders have achieved a level of consensus on key provisions. It is political resistance that continues to frustrate the passage of the FOI Act.

This is why advocates saw hope when President Aquino won on a platform of transparency and clean government, and when he declared support for FOI passage before he assumed the presidency.

President’s concerns

The initial commitment of support, however, quickly turned into statements of concern by his administration. In a position paper submitted by Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma to the Senate and the House of Representatives in October and November 2010, respectively, Coloma cited the following concerns:

— Adequacy of safeguards on information involving national security and foreign relations;

— Impact of FOI on the volume of transaction of agencies; and

— Access to transcripts and minutes of official meetings may diminish candid and open discussions by public officers.

Mr. Aquino himself, in an interview at the Asean 100 Leadership Forum in September 2011 and in the YouTube World View interview in November 2011, directly articulated his concerns. He was worried that the premature disclosure of raw information could unduly cause panic or speculation.

The President said confidentiality was important to allow full discussions in the Cabinet.

Working group

The debate, he said, was “where to draw the line,” noting that a working group was “trying to come up with that law that everybody can live with and comply with.”

The “working group” mentioned by the President was created in March 2011 to study the FOI bills. Coordinated by Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, it worked closely with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and consulted other agencies.

FOI advocates under the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition had opportunity to comment on early drafts of the study group’s proposed amendments.

National security

On Feb. 2, 2012, Abad transmitted to the House a copy of its amended FOI bill. The proposed amendments included the phrase “national security” in exception 1 (the 14th Congress bicameral conference version confined national security to defense and foreign affairs) and introduced a new exception to address the concern over the President’s access to free and frank opinion and discussion with his closest advisers.

In turn, the safeguards were strengthened to balance the advocates’ concerns over potential abuse of exceptions. In addition to the legal presumption in favor of access, exceptions shall be strictly construed and cannot be invoked to cover-up crime, wrongdoing, graft, or corruption. Exceptions may also be waived when there is a compelling public interest in disclosure.

Frustration

Not long after transmittal, the advocates’ hopes turned into frustration. When the House public information committee, then chaired by Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, refused to move, nothing more was heard from Malacañang. The result, FOI did not even reach the legislative stage it did in the 14th Congress.

With the opportunity in the 15th Congress lost, the passage of the FOI bill under Mr. Aquino now comes down to the final two years of his six-year term. Will we finally get it?

Clamor

The people’s clamor for an FOI Act has been constant and consistent, and advocates see definite advance in key areas. Determined yet careful work addressed concerns raised by the executive and other stakeholders.

The Senate passed its version in record time in the 16th Congress. And while still slower than advocates would have wanted, the present House committee sets technical working group (TWG) meetings fairly regularly. We also see a growing number of FOI champions in the House who meet regularly.

After almost two years of silence, Malacañang is once again engaged. Undersecretary Quezon now regularly attends the TWG meetings. In a forum at the World Bank headquarters on April 9, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda announced the executive’s decision to integrate open data principles and to institutionalize the administration’s transparency initiatives through the passage of the FOI Act.

Major pieces of legislation face institutional resistance. Nobody will go public refuting the need for and importance of FOI. But the instinct for political exigency and survival runs deep. A major reform like FOI requires decisive leadership at the highest level to overcome the legislative hurdle.

President’s assurance

This is where the President’s assurance that the proposed FOI Act will be passed before the end of his term, made during the Daylight Dialogue in Malacañang on July 15, is significant.

Are we finally seeing a victory for FOI? The positive developments indicate a fighting chance. However, we have seen close calls before. The nonpassage of the bicameral committee report during the last day of session of the 14th Congress is a vivid reminder that nothing is sure until it is signed.

The jury is still out on FOI under the Aquino administration. Is there political courage to see it through?

(Editor’s Note: Lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan is coconvenor of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a network of more than 100 organizations from different sectors that is at the forefront of the campaign for the passage of an FOI Act. He is a trustee at the Action for Economic Reforms and codirector of the Institute for Freedom of Information.)

 

For more on the series of issues on SONA 2014, read the Philippine Daily Inquirer and tune in to Radio Inquirer 990Am from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

RELATED STORIES

Aquino assures FOI to become law before term ends

Aquino urged: Declare FOI measure, budget control bill as urgent





Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

More News:

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.


Copyright 2019. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94

Advertisement
Advertisement

Photos & Videos

  • Aquino backs FOI bill, insists aide

    Read More

  • Palace: No war with bishops over reproductive health bill

    Read More

  • Dengue cases in Philippines up by 16%

    Read More

  • INQUIRER.net poll: 40% of respondents think Aquino’s SONA excellent

    Read More

  • Ramon-Arguelles

    Aquino’s RH bill endorsement an open war on Church, bishops say

    Read More

  • Despite Aquino snub, FOI will be pushed, lawmaker vows

    Read More

  • Palace defends use of last year’s crime stats in SONA

    Read More

  • Abigail-Valte

    Aquino can’t stop Charter change moves—Palace

    Read More

  • Aquino submits P2-trillion budget to Congress

    Read More

  • Palace: No road map needed for ‘daang matuwid’

    Read More

  • Palace names Rojas permanent NBI chief

    Read More

  • Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

    Aquino statement on responsible parenthood ‘safe’ , says Sotto

    Read More

  • Luisita lands should be distributed in one year, says farmers group leader

    Read More

  • Guingona says Aquino’s SONA surpassed his expectations

    Read More

  • Aquino: Philippines is no longer a joke

    Read More

  • 6,000 cops block 5,000 protesters hurling stones

    Read More

  • House ‘Great Wall’ shrine to historic impeachment

    Read More

  • Aquino: Nothing is impossible

    Read More

  • Scores hurt as protesters clash with cops

    Read More

  • Aquino defends new mining policy

    Read More

  • Aquino: We’ve proven the impossible possible

    Read More

  • Aquino’s ‘good news’ not in sync with reality—Casiño

    Read More

  • Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

    No mention of RH bill in Sona, says Sotto

    Read More

  • Mining, sin tax bills should be passed, says Drilon

    Read More

  • Aquino vows to step up infrastructure development

    Read More

  • Aquino calls ARMM governor ‘certified ghost buster’

    Read More

  • Police say Aquino Sona peaceful despite clash

    Read More

  • Clash with cops resulted from ‘frustration,’ say militants

    Read More

  • Binay gives Aquino Sona a ‘9’

    Read More

  • Villar rates Aquino’s Sona ‘good’

    Read More

  • Ombudsman Morales extolled in Aquino Sona

    Read More

  • AFP to get more equipment, aircraft next year – Aquino

    Read More

  • Aquino says reforms now the norm

    Read More

  • Ex-President Estrada, senators assess Aquino gov’t

    Read More

  • `Kayo po ang gumawa ng pagbabago. SONA ito ng sambayanang Pilipino’

    Read More

  • Aquino won’t ‘forgive and forget’ sins of past administration

    Read More

  • Aquino sees 10M tourists coming to PH by 2016

    Read More

  • Aquino lauds gov’t improved risk reduction capability

    Read More

  • Aquino says 3.1M jobs created in past 2 years

    Read More

  • Aquino: Classroom shortage problem solved before 2014

    Read More

  • Aquino tells legislators: Pass Sin Tax bill

    Read More

  • Aquino draws cheer for mentioning possible passage of RH bill

    Read More

  • Clash erupts again on Commonwealth Avenue, 2 media members injured

    Read More

  • Philippines now open for business – Aquino

    Read More

  • Aquino: Reformed PhilHealth reaches more poor people

    Read More

  • Aquino opens 3rd Sona with attack on past administration

    Read More

  • Aquino arrives in House for Sona

    Read More

  • Protesters clash with cops in front of Ever Gotesco

    Read More

  • Cayetano on charter change proponents: Proceed with caution

    Read More

  • Lawmakers urged to pass K+12, RH bills

    Read More

  • Protesters remove steel barricade near Ever Gotesco in Quezon City

    Read More

  • Protesters burn Aquino effigy

    Read More

  • 15th Congress sessions open for Aquino’s third Sona

    Read More

  • Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile . JUNNY ROY/SENATE POOL

    Enrile wants to hear Aquino’s plan on job creation

    Read More

  • Jose-de-Venecia Jr.

    De Venecia, Bartolome, Carpio arrive at the House for Sona 2012

    Read More

  • Charter change among Senate’s priorities—Enrile

    Read More

  • Sona iffigy burning

    Protesters call Aquino’s 2-year rule pro-foreigners, ‘mostly talk than work’

    Read More

  • 21 senators present at early Monday session

    21 senators present at early Monday session; Pangilinan, Santiago absent

    Read More

  • Sona 2012 protest

    Militant farmers’ group clashes with police on Commonwealth Avenue

    Read More

  • MEDIA PROTEST

    Media members affiliated with government TV stations join Sona 2012 protesters

    Read More

  • 235 lawmakers present at House’s early Monday session for 2012 Sona

    Read More

  • senate-of-the-philippines-office

    Senate opens pre-Sona session

    Read More

  • What the nation wants to hear

    Read More

  • Police blockage on Commonwealth Avenue violates BP 880, says Bayan

    Read More

  • Rains expected on SONA day–Pagasa

    Read More

  • Protesters mass near Congress ahead of Aquino’s speech

    Read More

  • Classes suspended in some Metro schools due to bad weather

    Read More

  • Protesters told: Bring umbrellas, raincoats

    Read More

  • PNP units on full alert for anti-Sona rallies

    Read More

  • Sen. Arroyo to skip fashion parade of legislators

    Read More

  • Palace vows ‘truthful, inspiring’ 3rd SONA

    Read More

  • Senator Trillanes says won’t attend Aquino SONA

    Read More

  • OK all the way, thumbs down on quite a few

    Read More

  • Heavy rains forecast for Sona

    Read More

  • Koronadal top cop sacked for drinking, card game session at police station

    PNP assures Sona protesters cops will not carry guns

    Read More

  • corona

    Corona expects more attacks from Aquino, says he’s moved on

    Read More

  • Palace hit for blaming courts on human rights slays

    Read More

  • Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile

    Congress pushes Charter change

    Read More

  • Lawmakers voice out what they expect to hear from Aquino’s 3rd Sona

    Read More

  • Liberal Party not aggressively recruiting—Belmonte

    Read More

  • Arroyo seeks bishops’ prayers ‘to accept things she could no longer change’

    Read More

  • Genuino charged over P258-M coffee overprice

    Read More

  • Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, NBN-ZTE Deal

    Arroyo wants to stop P366-M PCSO case

    Read More

  • About time you quit blaming Arroyo, militants tell Aquino

    Read More

  • Militant group leaders snub pre-SONA dialogue with cops

    Read More

  • dinky-soliman

    CCT goal of easing poverty still way off

    Read More

  • Some 5,000 cops to be deployed in Congress for Aquino speech

    Read More

  • Not one human rights violator convicted–CHR chief

    Read More

  • Gov’t reforms take roots at ‘cheating capital’ of PH

    Read More

  • Ombudsman is Aquino’s key weapon vs graft

    Read More

  • PSG inspects House ahead of President Aquino’s SONA

    Read More

  • House preparations on high gear for Aquino State of the Nation Address

    Read More

  • It’s official: Morales new Ombudsman

    Read More

  • At A Glance

    Read More

  • ‘Thank you, my Bosses’

    Read More

  • State of the Nation Address

    Read More

  • Militants burn Aquino effigy

    Read More

  • Militants gather at St. Peter’s Church

    Read More

  • Farmers stopped from crossing police line

    Read More

  • Arroyo arrives at House of Representatives

    Read More

  • Some 5,000 cops, MMDA personnel deployed vs militants

    Read More

  • Traffic build up on southbound lane of Commonwealth Ave. in QC

    Read More

  • Militants prepare for ‘PeNoy’ effigy burning on Monday

    Read More

  • President to focus on transformation

    Read More

  • Anti-corruption drive gains top Aquino SONA—Palace

    Read More

  • Traffic re-routing scheme for Monday in QC’s Commonwealth area

    Read More

  • Lintang Bedol arrives in Camp Crame

    Read More

  • Hardy Filipinos fly flag, fight loneliness on Kalayaan isle

    Read More

  • Aquino reports to the boss (Part 1)

    Read More

Copyright 1997-2011 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved