Philippines Senate Passes FOI Bill Without Dissent

10 March 2014

The Philippines Senate on March passed a freedom of information bill on third and final reading.

All senators present voted in favor of the measure, according to a report by the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and one in The Inquirer.

“While the Senate breezed through the FOI, the House version continues to meander through the congressional maze,” the PCIJ commented.

A technical working group of the House committee on public information and mass media met March 10 in a continuing effort to prepare a consolidated House measure, and remains on the exemptions section, according to The Inquirer. The House this week will adjourn for two months.

Senator Grace Poe, the leading sponsor of the Senate bill, noted in her remarks that the first FOI bill was filed in Congress 21 years and 8 months ago, “in honor of the landmark principle enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution that ‘Public office is a public trust.’ ”

“It was also in the same period that the citizens wanted to have access to information on public debts incurred by the country and data on the status of the land ownership of hacenderos [landowners] and sakadas [tenant farmers] in the agrarian reform sector,” she said, according to a report in Rappler.

The Rappler report on Poe’s remarks continued:

We simply need to pass the law. We simply need to be transparent and accountable. We simply need to honor that public service is serving with honesty and integrity. Ang pagsisilbi sa pamahalaan ay serbisyong tunay, paglilingkod na matapat, at pagkilos na marangal,” she said. (Government service is genuine service, honest service, and honorable action.)

In an interview with reporters, Poe said that the FOI bill is not a diluted version of the measure but a consolidation of various proposed measures from the Senate, the administration, and civil society organizations “that the Filipino people can be proud of.”

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano was quoted as saying, “The House, the Senate, and Malacanang should be partners in promoting transparency in the country. Enacting the FOI measure into law is a good first step in regaining the people’s trust in the three branches of the government.”

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago praised the bill, which includes her amendments on the mandatory disclosure of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) for high level government officials and the monthly income of top government officials.

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