Aquino allies hopeful FOI will be passed this year

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SOME House members believed the controversial Freedom of Information (FOI) bill will be passed into law before the year ends after Malacañang submitted its own version with contents similar to what it had pushed during the previous 15th Congress.

House committee on public information chairman and Misamis Occidental Representative Jorge Almonte said that the recent move from the Palace will help fast track the work of the technical working group (TWG) to consolidate the 24 bills, including Malacañang's version.

"It is not an unwarranted projection that an FOI law will be enacted within this year… I believe the Executive version on FOI will facilitate the consideration of 24 bills as the Palace's stand has removed the suspicion that it is not interested in the passage of such a measure," Almonte said.


He noted that the Malacañang version of the pro-transparency measure will clear all doubts that the government is against its passage.

Meanwhile, Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat who is one of the FOI authors and advocate agreed with committee chairman and added that Malacañang never abandoned its support for the passage of FOI bill.

Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo and Batanes Representative Henedina Abad recently submitted the FOI bill containing the version of the Aquino administration.

"The target is to finish the TWG's before we adjourn session. Malacañang has always been supportive of FOI. Same inputs given last Congress were sent also in this Congress in the form of a bill authored by Congresswomen Robredo and Abad. What's important now is getting P-Noy to push for FOI among other lawmakers when the right time comes," Baguilat said in an interview.

The Palace version provides the mandatory disclosure of statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of national officials, FOI manual, public interest documents such as procurement contracts, annual procurement plan and annual budget.

It also compels government agencies to publish, print, disseminate at no cost and in an accessible form, timely, accurate and updated information in conjunction with the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007.

Among the exemptions being pushed by the government include presidential exceptions on defense, national security and diplomacy and bureaucratic, legislative, privacy, economic and judicial exceptions.

It also imposes administrative sanctions against public officers who violate the provisions of the FOI law.

Under the old version submitted during the 15th Congress, FOI guarantees the people's access to government information, but with a few exceptions due to sensitivity in nature. The said version also has no "Right of Reply" (ROR) provision.

The ROR requires the media to allot exclusive newspaper spaces and radio and television airtime for the reply of individuals who were allegedly aggrieved for being subjects of news stories. (Sunnex)

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