Aquino Official Discloses Goal of Marrying FOI, Open Data

11 April 2014

The government of Philippine President Benigno Aquino is interested in amending the pending freedom of information bill to address the subject of open data.

Little detail is available on the concept, which was exposed publicly April 8 by Edwin Lacierda, the government’s chief spokesman during a World Bank forum.

“What we have decided is instead of putting out an open data bill, we decided to marry both FOI to open data principles, and open data, so that the supply side and the demand side will be married together,” he said.

The government’s interest in marrying FOI and open data was confirmed for by a person from a nongovernmental organization who is active in support of a FOI bill.

Although the addition of a new topic could complicate congressional consideration, the FOI supporter consulted by called Lacierdo’s comment “actually a positive sign.”

The Senate has passed a bill and a House committee is slowly working on its own draft, but neither contains open data provisions. (See most recent report.)

No Specifics Given

Lacierdo was not specific about what might be proposed regarding open data, or when, but offered an explanation of what the administration hopes to achieve when he added:

So there will be no issues, for instance, from the FOI advocates, that they are saying that government just wants to publish information for propaganda purposes.

 We are taking away that argument. We are saying, look we are going to publish all data that has been cured and we are also giving you the right to come up with demands for information.

 So there will be no issues, for instance, from the FOI advocates that they are government just wants to publish information for propaganda purposes.

 Lacierdo appeared at a World Bank panel discussion, “Closing Feedback Loop, From Engaged Citizens to More Responsive Governments,” at which he also described the administration’s proactive publication of budget information and open data initiatives. (His comments on the FOI bill come about 80 percent of the way through the forum, see video.)

The administration has been criticized for being overly focused on open data efforts. On Jan. 20, Lacierdo said open data was not a substitute for a FOIA law, according to a GMANetwork article.

The criticisms have continued, however, for example in a  Jan. 24 editorial in the Manila Times said:

The right to information is already guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution, but the problem is that it is “subject to limitations.” The FOI law will give teeth to the exercise of that right.

Instead of a proper Freedom of Information Act, Malacañang’s pet project is the so-called Open Data Philippines. The Palace claims that this would satisfy the constitutional requirement of an open and transparent governance by freely sharing information to the public.

This is a pipe dream.

For it is still the government that will determine what data to share with the people.

An FOI Act, as authored by Rep. Erwin Tañada and which nearly passed three years ago, is what a truly democratic Philippines needs.

Lacierdo and other government spokesmen have been pressed to explain what many FOI supporters see as a lukewarm administration support for the bill, notwithstanding that it was a campaign promise, In declining to certify the bill as a priority matter, the administration has typically taken a hand-off approach and said the bill’s fate was up to Congress. The administration has indicated what it wants in a bill, but has not previously said the legislation should include open data provisions.

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