FFE Magazine

Senator Santiago reveals possible snags in FOI Bill

by FFE PH News Staff

 

foiJust how much and what type of government information should the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) make public? Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago made a rare appearance in the Senate floor on Monday to question certain points in the FOI bill.

 

The senator said there are points in the FOI bill that may clash with the Bill of Rights: the right to information and privacy of communications. While she said she ardently supports FOI, these snags should be addressed before the bill is passed into law. She warned that if this is left unaddressed now, critics could question the constitutionality of a FOI law in the Supreme Court.

 

Santiago clarified that under the Bill of Rights there are certain confidential government communications that cannot be revealed to the public, such as presidential communications and communications that involve high level decision-making.

 

She added that FOI should also be reconciled with existing data privacy laws and add exemptions like those which fall under the National Internal Revenue Code, AIDS Prevention and Control Act, Inter-Country Adoption Act and other information from foreign governments.

 

Another issue the senator brought into the floor is the addition of a provision that seeks to publish government officials’ salaries, allowances and other incomes. She said ‘It is urgent to stop corporate greed in the state bureaucracy. Those people help themselves to outrageous allowances and bonuses as if the government is an enterprise for profit.

 

‘The basic monthly salary of a senator is P90,000. But if you add all other legitimate sources of income such as allowances and honoraria, the total monthly income of a senator could be placed at some P1.4 million.’

 

She also revealed that the senators’ maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) should be abolished because they were another secret income for the officials.

 

‘We should tear apart the veil of secrecy which covers total incomes of politicians.’

 

Senator Grace Poe meanwhile urged the House of Representatives to speed up the passage of the FOI bill. The chair of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media announced last week that she wants the Senate to pass the FOI bill into law within the first quarter of 2014.

 

Poe mentioned two road blocks to the passage of FOI: 1) the bill is not certified urgent and 2) the government wants to ascertain that FOI will not compromise national security. However, she stressed that honest officials need not fear FOI if they have nothing to hide.

 

While the FOI debate continues in Congress, the executive branch has already made steps to improve government transparency by launching the Open Data Philippines website in the first half of January. However, Malacañang clarified the website is in no way a replacement of the FOI bill, which it fully supports.

 

 

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