Philippines Committee Passes FOI Bill 10-3 With Dispute

24 November 2014

A Philippines House committee on Nov. 24 voted 10-3 to approve a freedom of information bill.

The bill is “almost toothless,” charged some emerging critics, the seven-person Makabayan Coalition, whose members voted against the bill. But other lawmakers who have supported the bill and influential, long-time FOI campaigners called the committee bill “genuine and strong.”

The debate was played out in competing position papers in advance of the vote by the Committee on Public Information.

The Makabayan bloc listing its objections in a Nov. 20 position paper titled “Objection to the Weak TWG – Freedom of Information Bill.”

Rebuttals were circulated by a lawmaker and others who have led the broad Right to Know Coalition that has lobbied for passage. The committee chairman would not entertain amendment to the bill in committee, saying that could wait until the plenary consideration. One House sponsor, Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr said advocates hope to pass the FOI bill on third reading by the middle of 2015.

Committee passage marks a major step for the FOI bill. The Senate has passed its version of the bill, as it did last session, but House consideration has been much delayed.

The Coalition and the Makabayan bloc disputed over eight provisions, particularly concerning exemptions.

The Coalition disagreed that the exemptions are too narrow, concluding that “there is still opportunity to overcome a recognized exception by weighing it against a showing of a compelling need for disclosure.”

Makabayan bloc members also objected to Section 7 (b) recognizing the authority of the president to invoke as privileged records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during his decision-making or policy formulation. The Coalition response points out that this exception, sometimes referred to as “executive privilege,” has been recognized by the Supreme Court as an exception rooted on separation of powers.

Another debate concerned the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth filed out by public officials. The Makabayan Bloc argued that access to them would be restricted by the bill, but the rebuttal points to a requirement that they be posted on government websites for the highest officials of the country.

 

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