Aquino Administration Backs FOI Bill, Improving Odds

21 March 2014

The Aquino administration has endorsed a freedom of information bill, possibly improving the changes for House action, according to a March 22 article in The Philippine Star and a similar one by the Philippine News Agency.

House Bill 3237 filed by Rep. Maria Leonor Robredo and Deputy Speaker Henedina Abad has the blessing of administration, the reports say.

A House committee technical working group has been trying to produce a consolidated bill, using last year’s bill as a template.

“We have attained a level of agreement with the executive that was not there during the past Congresses. It is important that we are in unison and the communication remains open. We hope this will continue until we hurdle the plenary debates,” Rep. Arlene Bag-ao was quoted as saying.

Rep. Emmeline Aglipay Aglipay said she examined HB 3237 and the 15th Congress’ Committee report version and commented, “Except for the differences in the order of provisions and a few distinct provisions, the bill endorsed by Malacañang and the template reference bill are identical in most provisions, and substantially the same.”

Among other things, the administration-approved version includes language giving the executive greater flexibility on national security matters and providing more protection for intra-administration discussions. The list of documents that must be disclosed was expanded, the paper reported,

It also said:

To address the bureaucracy’s concern over the gravity of penalties, a number of criminal offenses were reclassified as administrative offenses. The defense of good faith was also introduced.

To balance the advocates’ concerns over potential abuse of exceptions and criticisms of “watering down,” the safeguards were further strengthened.

In addition to the legal presumption in favor of access, the following additional safeguards on the exceptions were agreed on: the exceptions shall be strictly construed; exceptions cannot be invoked to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, graft, or corruption; and the President, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the constitutional commissions may waive an exception with respect to information in the custody of offices under their respective supervision or control, when they deem that there is a compelling or overriding public interest in disclosure.

All these proposals by the executive were adopted in the TWG reference bill in the House and in the recently approved bill in the Senate.

“We are hopeful that with closer legislative and executive cooperation, we can expect the realization of the long-awaited FOI law before the end of this administration,” Bag-ao said.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under: What's New