After Duterte EO, lawmakers call to pass FOI law in Congress

Patty Pasion
After Duterte EO, lawmakers call to pass FOI law in Congress
Following Duterte's issuance of the Executive Order on FOI, several lawmakers push for the passage of a similar law to cover all branches of government

MANILA, Philippines – Several lawmakers lauded President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive that mandates full public disclosure among all offices under the executive branch, but acknowledged that Congress still has a job to pass a measure to cover the legislative and judicial branches of government.  

Duterte ally and presumptive House Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez earlier told his fellow lawmakers on Friday, July 22, that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is a priority even if Duterte signs the executive order.

Some members of the House of Representatives, where the bill never saw passage, backed Alvarez’s marching orders to pass the FOI. (READ: What happened to FOI under Aquino?

“The executive’s initiative is certainly a challenge now to Congress to pass an all embracing FOI law like House Bill 334 that we filed last June 30. We urge in particular the House leadership to fast track the passage of a genuine FOI bill, one that will truly reflect the principles of full transparency in government and full accountability of government officials and employees,” said Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate. 

While Kabayan Representative Harry Roque said in a text message: “FOI law [is] still needed for penalty and for Congress and courts.”

Former President Benigno Aquino III listed the FOI among his priority bills in 2015, consistent with his campaign to eliminate corruption and pave a “daang matuwid” (straight path) for governance.

But the measure failed to pass the 16th Congress. The Senate successfully passed FOI on third and final reading on March 11, 2014 but the measure languished in the House of Representatives.

Recommendations 

Members of the Senate who championed the bill’s passage also urged the administration to pass an FOI bill.

“Hindi pa tapos ang ating trabaho. Ang ehekutibo lamang ang sakop ng Executive Order. Kailangan pa natin ng batas sa Freedom of Information na sakop ang lahat ng antas ng burukrasya,” Senator Francis Pangilinan said.

(Our job is not yet complete. The Executive Order covers only the executive branch. There is still a need for a Freedom of Information legislation so that we can ensure transparency at all levels of the bureaucracy.)

They also suggested ways to strengthen the implementation of the EO based on the provisions they laid on their version of the FOI.

Senator Grace Poe, Duterte’s rival during the presidential race, called the President’s initiative a “milestone” but the exceptions and penalties of the order still have to be monitored.

Sponsoring the FOI bill that Senate passed, the senator proposes the penalties that they included in the version that the chamber passed during the 16th Congress.

“If the government employee or public servant does not comply, there are sanctions, like for example suspension or even later on dismissal from service,” she said in an interview on ANC.

She also recommended: “Another thing that we felt might be easier also for the government is that certain information should already be automatically uploaded in each department’s website.”

Senator Ralph Recto, meanwhile, emphasized that information provided should be easily understood by the general public.

“It is one thing to get documents. It is another to make documents self-explanatory and easy-to-comprehend,” he said.

“There’s one important benchmark by which this FOI order should be measured, on how fast government permits can be secured,” Recto said, alluding to the bill they passed in Senate.  – Rappler.com 

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.