Congress urged to pass FOI bill

MANILA– Key officials of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) urged both chambers of Congress to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, a priority measure of the Duterte administration.

PCOO Undersecretary Noel Puyat and Assistant Secretary Kristian Ablan made the call during the FOI conference entitled #FOIKnowMore: Moving Towards Enhanced Standard of Transparency at Richmonde Hotel Eastwood City in Quezon City.

In his keynote speech, Puyat said FOI implementation stands as one of the key pillars of the Duterte administration in its bid to “bring back the faith, trust and confidence of the people in the government”.

In fact, President Rodrigo Duterte signed in July 2016 an executive order on FOI entitled “Operationalizing in the executive branch the people’s constitutional right to information and the state policies of full public disclosure and transparency in the public service and providing guidelines therefor.”

Puyat called on the House of Representatives and Senate to immediately act on the measure to push for greater transparency and accountability in the three branches of government.

“We call on the House of Representatives and the Senate to unite and pass the FOI as a law to be adhered to by all agencies in the three branches of government,” Puyat said.

“As our genuine and collective advocacy, we call on the citizenry, the media, and the civil society to ensure that the FOI bill be enacted,” he added.

For his part, Ablan cited the need to enact the FOI bill into a law and called on the civil society and government workers to convince lawmakers to pass the contentious measure.

“As good as the FOI program is, we feel that the FOI can be truly effective for accountability and transparency and citizen engagement, if a law is passed,” Ablan said.

The FOI bill has already hurdled the committee level at the House of Representatives, while the Senate version is already up for plenary debates.

The FOI bill embodies the two aspects of the right to information as mandated by the 1987 Constitution, namely, full public disclosure and citizens’ access to information.

The measure reiterates the Constitution’s mandate to disclose the Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth of certain officials.

Public interest documents or records, such as contracts with the private sector and those which are budget-related, are required to be published by government agencies in their websites.

The bill also mandates every citizen’s right to ask for and receive information from government, subject only to a limited number of exceptions.

The bill also sets the procedure of requesting for access to information and documents up to appeal in case of denial.

Administrative and criminal liabilities for violation of the right to information will also be put in place through this measure. Filane Cervantes/PNA –