Poe urges Palace to reconsider 'restrictive rules' in FOI order

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe on Monday, August 29, called on Malacañang to reconsider the "restrictive rules" it has included in President Rodrigo Duterte’s executive order on freedom of information (FOI).

The EO, meant to allow free access to public documents and information while awaiting a law to be passed, lists as many as 166 exceptions.

Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public information, authored the FOI bill that the Senate passed on 3rd and final reading in the 16th Congress, before Duterte became president.

She urged the executive to re-evaluate the rules on the release of congressional fund disbursements and government officials’ Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs).

“While most of the draft exceptions are identical with those contained in my current version of the FOI bill that passed the Senate last 16th Congres…I wish Malacañang would reconsider removing the restrictive rules regarding the release of SALNs of executive officials,” Poe said in a statement.

The draft manual prohibits the disclosure of SALNs if the purpose is “contrary to morals or public policy” or for any commercial purposes other than by news and communications media “for dissemination to the general public.” (READ: Draft FOI manual includes list of 166 exceptions)

“This restrictive guideline on SALNs appears contrary to the intent of RA 6713, not to mention its being inconsistent with the President's public pronouncement and intent to push for the relaxation of the Bank Secrecy Law concerning public officials.” Poe said.

Republic Act 6713 is the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standard for Public Officials.

Section 8 of the law states: “Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests.”

Poe suggested that the SALNs of executive officials be posted on their agency’s website for easy public access.

“It would serve the spirit of transparency better if the SALNs of the officials will be posted on their agency's website for ready access by the public, with only the sensitive personal details redacted to protect privacy,” Poe said.

The senator and FOI advocate also expressed concern over the exception which states that "government officials cannot be compelled to prepare lists and detailed reports on how congressional funds were disbursed."

“I also raise concerns on exempting the release of details surrounding congressional funds disbursements, which are patently public documents and of paramount public concern,” she said.

The Senate is set to conduct its first public hearing on the FOI law on Thursday, September 1. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com