Delays Compromise Prospects of FOI Passage

Based on various reports, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda has announced the creation of an inter-agency team tasked with “the drafting of the Freedom of Information Bill as far as the executive branch is concerned”.

We recognize Malacañang’s prerogative to closely examine the proposed Freedom of Information Act. Indeed, while the bill covers all branches and levels of government, the executive department will be most concerned in the implementation of an FOI law given that it is the biggest generator and custodian of information. We want a working FOI law, and critical to that is a clear buy-in from the executive. Towards this end, we have time and again expressed our readiness for dialogue to address whatever concerns remain on the FOI bill.

 

 

We fear, however, that Malacañang’s approach of drafting its own Freedom of Information (FOI) bill could throw a monkey wrench into the long-overdue legislation of the FOI law. For one, it sends a signal to Congress to slow down on the legislative process and await Malacañang’s version. For another, Malacañang’s lack of decisive support for FOI is interpreted by many as resistance in fact to the measure. This can only embolden opponents of the bill in Congress. Also, the Malacañang approach could result in a bill so far in structure and substance from the pending versions in Congress that it reopens debates and disagreements and trigger a deadlock.

This is unfortunate given the already advanced legislative status and history of the FOI bills in Congress. Majority of the bills filed in both Houses are based on the bicameral conference version that only needed ratification by the House of Representatives in the 14th Congress as a final step before it’s transmittal to the President for approval. In the present Congress, committee hearings have already been conducted in both Houses. We note that most executive agencies have been invited to these hearings, and many of them have submitted their written comments. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Erin Tañada as chairman of the technical working group has circulated a draft consolidation of the bills which proposes further refinements precisely to address remaining concerns coming from Malacañang and some executive agencies.

We humbly submit that instead of drafting its own bill, a more straightforward and good faith approach on the part of Malacañang is for the inter-agency team to adopt Rep. Tañada’s proposed consolidation as its reference point. It can then identify specifically what changes it still proposes to make, and subject these proposals to dialogue.

We also appeal to the inter-agency team to formally convene at the soonest, and announce a transparent and time-bound process for its study and recommendations. There is a need to set a fairly quick timeframe for the review. While the incumbent President has a term of six years, the 15th Congress only has a term of three years. Our long experience in advocating for this measure tells us that every day of delay makes it easier for adverse forces to kill the measure. This is our painful lesson from the 14th Congress.

Lastly, we express our trust that the Senate and the House of Representatives will continue to advance the legislative process on FOI and bring their respective committee reports to plenary well before the end of their first regular session. We emphasize that doing so does not foreclose the introduction of Malacañang amendments in plenary.

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