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Draft FOI manual includes list of 166 exceptions

LIST OF EXCEPTIONS. The draft manual for Freedom of Information (FOI) includes 166 exceptions.

MANILA, Philippines – Individuals seeking information from the government may need to review 166 exceptions listed in the August 22 draft of the Freedom of Information (FOI) People's Manual. 

The list of exceptions, taking almost 11 pages of the draft manual, was penned upon the recommendation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

It comes after the executive order (EO) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on July 23, mandating full public disclosure of all offices under the executive branch "including, but not limited to, the national government and all its offices, departments, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities including government-owned and -controlled corporations, state universities and colleges."

No person shall be denied the chance to request information, directed the EO.

However, it is a different matter if the information sought "falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law, or jurisprudence."

Security, criminal matters

Aside from the usual information that "directly relate to the national security or defense" such as law enforcement, border control, and legislative journals regarding national security, the FOI exceptions list includes foreign affairs information that may "weaken the negotiating position of the government" if revealed. 

Also exempt from the FOI are "records of minutes and advice given and opinion expressed during decision-making or policy formulation" as it may impair the President's deliberative process.

Law enforcement matters including those related to the "apprehension, the prosecution, and the detention of criminals," investigations conducted by public authorities, and the identity of informers, among others, are also listed in the exceptions. 

The manual stated that free public access to these information may "seriously jeopardize" law enforcement.

Personal records unless...

Personal information such as school and medical records are included in the list of exceptions in the FOI as disclosing these "would constitute an unwarranted invasion" of personal privacy.

However, such information may be obtained if "it forms part of a public record, or the person is or was an official of the government agency and the information relates to his other public function or the person has consented, in writing, to the disclosure of the information," the manual stated.

Government officials' Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) may only be given for public dissemination through, for example, media organizations. 

SALNs will not be disclosed, according to the manual, "if the purpose is contrary to morals or public policy or if they are intended for any commercial purpose."

The list of exceptions also states that "government officials cannot be compelled to prepare lists and detailed reports on how congressional funds were disbursed."

Trade secrets, banking records

Information gathered by government agencies on businesses in the country such as trade secrets, confidential financial data, as well as books and records of private corporations are also included in the list of exceptions. 

Documents submitted through the Government Electronic Procurement System (GEPS) are also exempt from the FOI.

Meanwhile, anti-money laundering concerns, "covered or suspicious transaction reports, or any other information in relation thereto" are also in the list together with secrecy of bank deposits.

Watered down? 

With 166 items not subject to the FOI, won't the measure be watered down?

According to Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, the list is not yet final.

"Hindi pa po final ang binibigay na exceptions ng DOJ at SolGen," he said. "Ito ay ire-review pa ng ating mga kasamahan sa Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs so abangan na lang po natin ang pinaka-final na listahan na ilalabas."

(That is not the final list of exceptions given by the DOJ and SolGen. The list will still be reviewed by our colleagues under the Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs so it's best we wait for the final list of exceptions.) – Rappler.com