MANILA (Mabuhay) — A lawmaker has re-filed the proposed Freedom of Information Act to fully promote good governance, accountability and transparency in all branches of the government.
Rep. Raul V. Del Mar (1st District, Cebu City) said the still unnumbered bill seeks to strengthen the right of Filipino citizens to information held by the government by full public disclosure of all government transactions involving public interest.
“This same measure was already approved on third and final reading during the 16th Congress. However, due to lack of quorum of the last session day, the subject Conference Committee report was not ratified,” Del Mar said.
Under the bill, request of information shall be free of charge and could be requested personally, by electronic means or by mail to the government agency concerned.
The FOI Act shall cover the executive, legislative and judicial branches which shall include the national government and all its agencies, departments, bureaus, constitutional commissions and mandated bodies, offices of the Senators and Representatives, the Supreme Court and all lower courts established by law.
It shall also cover local governments and all their agencies, regulatory agencies, chartered institutions, government-owned or controlled corporations, including wholly-owned or controlled subsidiaries, offices and instrumentalities, government financial institutions, state universities and colleges.
Law enforcement agencies are also part of the FOI Act, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Information shall be given upon request to every Filipino citizen and it shall become the government agencies and public officials’ duty to disclose all records pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions and government research data used as a basis for policy development.
“Access to public records means access to evidence vital to proving public officials accountable for wrongdoing. Also, the new bill provides a convenient procedure to facilitate access to information and remedies are also available for denial of access like administrative, civil and criminal penalties,” Del Mar said.
A Freedom of Information Manual shall be prepared for the use of the public and shall also be posted in the agency website.
Exceptions shall be granted if the information may compromise national security or interfere with any legitimate military or law enforcement operations.
Immunity from the Act shall also be permitted if the information shall jeopardize the diplomatic and negotiating position of the Philippines.
The information shall not also be disclosed if it will expose identity of confidential sources, techniques, guidelines and procedures of law enforcement investigations.
Furthermore, pieces of information that will constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy such as signatures, addresses, telephone numbers, identification numbers, family members, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, health education shall not be part of the FOI Act.
On the other hand, the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) of all public officials shall be mandatory disclosed on an annual basis.
Public officials shall include the President, Vice President, Cabinet members, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Supreme Court Justices, Constitutional commissioners and officers of AFP with the rank of a general.
All government agencies shall also publish datasets in the Open Date Philippines website and on Local Government Unit (LGU) websites.
The website shall be maintained and managed by an Open Data Task Force under the Office of the President.
Request for information can also be tracked using the websites of concerned government agency, including the status, decision on the request and the matrix of the requests made.
Lastly, the principles of accountability and transparency, democracy, leadership and good governance shall be integrated in the primary and secondary curriculum to guarantee understanding of the FOI Act. (MNS)