Govt transparency still a dream despite the Senate’s hard work
All eyes are now on the House of Representatives after the Senate passed their version of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) on Monday. The lower house’s version still has to be approved before FOI law becomes official.
Twenty-one out of 24 senators or all who were present during the third committee reading of SB 1733 or ‘People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2013’ approved the Senate’s version of the FOI bill. Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Committee on Public Information and bill primary sponsor, was the first to share the good news via her Twitter site:
‘Senate Bill NO 1733 or People’s FOI is hereby approved on third and final reading!’
Under SB 1733, everyone has the right to request and be given access to government information in whatever format it may be for free. All government agencies are also ordered to provide important information on their websites, including budget, summary of income and expenses, results of bids and others. Public officials are also ordered to publish on their websites their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).
However, not all government information can be readily given to the public. Confidential information, information that invades a person’s right to privacy and other information that will compromise national security may be withheld from the public.
While the Senate debate on the public’s right to access government documents is finished, Congress is not yet ready to finalise the FOI bill as the House of Representative’s version is still being consolidated by a technical working group (TWG) under the House’s Committee on Public Information.
With the impending break of the lower house’s session on 15 March, many fear that the FOI bill’s counterpart will languish longer despite its success in the Senate. Session will resume on 4 May.
However, TWG member and Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao is confident FOI will be passed in the lower house this year. House of Representatives Speaker Sonny Belmonte also assured the public that he will see through the passage of the FOI bill before his term ends in 2016.
As of the TWG’s meeting yesterday, the members are still debating the exemptions of the bill. All in all, the group has finished discussing six out of 25 sections of the bill.
Once the lower house approves their version of the FOI bill, Congress needs to consolidate the two versions of the FOI bill and create a single draft for approval by the president.