MANILA, Philippines – Will the House of Representatives be capable of passing a bill that would require its members to upload in full their Statement on Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN)?
The bill, a consolidated version of the proposed Freedom of Information Act, is currently pending before the committee on appropriations. It has been stuck there since February 2017. It’s a mix of 35 proposed measures.
“As Chairman of the committee on public information, I can only urge my colleagues who sit in the appropriations committee to expedite the FOI bill at the soonest. It is understandable though that with the ongoing hearings on the 2018 budget that appropriations is quite busy,” said Bagong Henerasyon Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy in a press conference on Tuesday, August 29.
The appropriations committee, tasked with deliberating the proposed 2018 budget, recently wrapped up panel debates on the budget. Various departments and agencies continue to defend their budget during pre-plenary hearings. Plenary hearings – or the presentation of the budget before the entire House of Representatives – are scheduled to begin on September 4. The House wants the budget passed by September 21.
The consolidated FOI bill would require legislators – including the district and party list representatives in the House – to upload the “full details” of their SALN on the House website.
In the past, there has been a lot of foot-dragging in the House in the release of its members’ full SALNs. (READ: House delays release of lawmakers’ SALNs for 2016)
Recently, the House released only the summaries of legislators’ net worth. (READ: 2 party-list reps make up House ‘billionaires’ club’ in 2016)
An FOI law aims to increase transparency in government, allowing the public access to processes and records in government. It was a key campaign promise of former president Benigno Aquino III but it floundered in Congress, then controlled by Aquino’s Liberal Party. (READ: What happened to FOI under Aquino?)
President Rodrigo Duterte’s second executive order mandated full public disclosure of all offices under the executive branch. Local government units, meanwhile, were encouraged to follow the EO.
Herrera-Dy said that even if the EO exists, a law would institutionalize these reforms.
If the FOI becomes a law, like the EO, it will set exemptions to full public disclosures:
- If it could cause serious damage to national security and our country’s internal and/or external defense;
- If it could unduly weaken our country’s bargaining position in international negotiations or seriously jeopardize diplomatic relations with other countries;
- If it could compromise law enforcement operations and endanger the life of an individual;
- If it is obtained by Congress in executive session;
- If it is within the executive privilege;
- If it consists of drafts of the following: orders, resolutions, decisions, memos or audit reports by any executive, administrative, regulatory, constitutional, judicial or quasi-judicial body in exercise of their adjudicatory or audit function;
- If it is a trade secret; and
- If the information requested would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s right to privacy.
But the same exemptions cannot be invoked to help hide crime, graft, or corruption. – Rappler.com