Press Release
July 24, 2016

ANC Dateline with Stanley Palisada and Caroline Howard

Sen. Grace Poe: Hi, Good afternoon Stanley and Caroline and to your viewers, magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.

Q: Magandang hapon po, you've always maintained the position that an Executive Order may not be enough to push forward the Freedom of Information.

Poe: Well, let me say in the first place that we thank the President for starting this at least in the Executive branch. This is already indeed a milestone. There are a lot of things that we need to continue with regard to the Freedom of Information in other branches of government but we await with much anticipation that full implementation in the Executive branch. There are also pronouncements that we need to wait for the actual exceptions by the Office of the Solicitor General to look into that, what exceptions are there. There are several exceptions that are mentioned I believe in the Constitution especially when it comes to the right to privacy which you will also have to trade off once you're in government. So to our countrymen, we should continue to push for an actual Freedom of Information law that will cover all branches of government but Stanley, I wish to add also that this is already a good step towards accountability in government and so I thank this administration.

Q: What do you expect should be the next steps after the EO is to be released?

Poe: First they need to say what the exceptions are and number two, they need to be clear what the penalties are for government officials who will fail to comply with this Executive Order. Because if it's just a slap on their wrist or it's just a minor penalty then there's no motivation to actually comply with the law and for our countrymen, sa ating mga kababayan, importante po itong Executive Order kasi lahat ng mga departamento ng gobyerno, halimbawa, may anak kayo na nasa State University or colleges tapos sinabi wala ng budget, pwede ninyong hingin kung ano talaga ang pera na napunta sa unibersidad na iyon. Kung kayo ay magsasaka at kailangan ninyo kung ano ang mga proyekto ng gobyerno sa Department of Agriculture, o kung ano yung perang inilaan duon, pwede na kayong pumunta doon at hindi kayong pwedeng sabihan na ito ay impormasyon na hindi ninyo dapat makuha at sa atin namang mga opisyal sa gobyerno, lahat ng ating mga SALN (Staments of Assets and Liabilities), para malaman ng ating mga kababayan kung ano talaga ang ating kinikita at kung ito ba ay tugma sa ating lifestyle o kabuhayan. Lahat po ito makakatulong talaga sa laban sa korapsyon.

Q: In the press briefing by Sec. Andanar this morning, he mentioned a bit about some exceptions to the rule particularly when the request violates the Constitution and some existing laws. What do you think should be the allowable or the acceptable exceptions?

Poe: Well there are a few exceptions, at least in the Freedom of Information we passed in the Senate. For example, when there is an ongoing criminal investigation and the information will perhaps jeopardize the operation to find out if an individual is involved. Those things may be withheld. Another thing is also court documents, if these court documents are actually off limits to the public. So these things need to be spelled out by this executive order but as I've said, this doesn't cover all branches of the government, hindi pa po kasama diyan ang Senado at Kongreso at hindi din po kasama diyan ang hudikatura. Kaya po ang isang batas ay mas mainam para lahat ay mayroong pananagutan hindi lamang iilan sa gobyerno

Q: Going back to what you mentioned earlier about penalties and administrative charges, how severe should these be when violating the FOI?

Poe: I can only speak for the bill that we pushed for in the Senate which was approved in the Senate. There are certain administrative liabilities that we recommended, one thing is if you go to a government office, they need to be able to comply within a certain number of days and a reasonable time, 3-5 business days, and if they can't, they need to inform you why not and then you can appeal to the next higher officer in that department. Another thing is if the government employee or public servant does not comply there are sanctions, like for example suspension or even later on dismissal from service. These things are very particular that it needs to be spelled out so that people can really feel that they have a responsibility to comply. Another thing that we felt might be easier also for the government is that certain information should already be automatically uploaded in each department's website so that if an individual will go to the office, they can always say "nasa website na po, ito po ang website namin," kapag sinabing "wala kasi akong internet," then the government is compelled to be able to give a hard copy of it and charge a reasonable fee for the photocopying or other expenses but again if the person requesting for the information is an indigent then the government should make an exemption to that.

Q: We certainly hope to see that happen soon enough following the signing of this EO, may I just go back to the point you raised about who are yet to be covered by this EO, with the exception of the Senate, Congress and the Judiciary. How do you react on the oversight body being the DOJ and the Ombudsman?

Poe: ...For not having a body that will serve as an oversight for this, certainly I think that we should give it a try and see if it would work, but I think the scope of the FOI is so wide and for the government to be able to comply with this fully, I think we will need a monitoring body later on which can be specified in an actual freedom of information law but since now the government has signed an executive order, we thank the president. It only covers the executive branch so perhaps those bodies that are monitoring it are sufficient for now at least how this particular EO will be implemented by the government

Q: Sufficient for now, perhaps as a final question, I am sensing as you stated early on, I am sensing that you are taking as half baked as much as it is a milestone EO. What would you say would strengthen it still?

Poe: No, no Caroline, let me be a little bit more grateful and optimistic. It's not that, it being half baked. It certainly is towards the completion of the fulfillment of a law or the fulfillment of what is stated in the Constitution, that every individual has a right to public information. So the government is making an effort that we should acknowledge it and we should thank them for that, but we also appeal to our President that we need more prodding in Congress so that the actual bill is approved into law. This is more, to get lasting because it doesn't matter which administration is in office because if it is a law, they cannot just not implement it, but if it is an executive order it will always depend on who is the sitting president.

Q: So what should we expect Ma'am, as a final final question, do we expect you to keep pushing this or is this really all now up to the President to expand its reach?

Poe: Well, I think that each and every one of us should continue our vigilance and should push for a more comprehensive Freedom of information. We thank the President for the first step he took. I am hoping that I will continue to chair the Committee on Public Information and Mass Media in the Senate so that it will be a priority for me to push that in the Senate and then we also appeal to our counterpart in the lower house to perhaps work faster this time and approve it within the next year.

Q: We'll have to wait then for the assignments, for the committee assignments from the Senate President and the rest of the senators. Thank you for taking the questions Ma'am.

Poe: Thank you.

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