Press Release
July 25, 2016


I welcome the President's executive order on FOI. Any effort to enable the people to exercise the right to information should be lauded.

To institutionalize transparency in government, I filed Senate Bill 159, or the proposed Freedom of Information Act last June 30.

There is still a need to pass an FOI law for the following reasons:

1. The scope of the executive order covers only the executive departments and agencies. They are administrative in their nature and do not pass beyond the limits of the department to which they are directed or in which they are published, and, therefore, create no rights in third persons. Simply put, executive orders are most often regarded as internal or simply within the confines of the executive department at the most.

On the other hand, a law can cover all divisions and branches of government. Our proposed law also covers private contractors that have transactions with government. We need to cover transactions involving private entities who may be in cahoots with government officers in stealing public funds

2. The right to information - in its substantive and procedural aspects - needs to be clearly defined. That is the primary purpose of an enabling law. In our proposed law, there is a procedure laid down and is uniform for all offices. In the EO, there seems to be much discretion given to the Head of the Office who has custody of the information. Each government office is supposed to come up with a manual.

Also, the EO provides that access to information will be denied when the information falls under certain exceptions. The DOJ and the Solicitor General are to submit the list of exceptions based on the Constitution, law and jurisprudence.

Under our bill, established exceptions are already well-defined.

Because openness is fundamental to the democratic life of the country, access to information should be a key feature of our government. People should be able to understand and process such information meaningfully, expeditiously, and without distortion. I would therefore, like to add that our proposed law is not just about transparency and accountability, it is also about creating an enabling environment for social participation. Those who have been traditionally excluded from formal decision-making processes, such as those belonging to marginalized sectors, will now have the opportunity to engage in political participation, not just as voter or candidate, but in all important aspects of public affairs.

3. The EO does not provide for funding; but we can provide appropriations through our law. The effective promotion of the right to information requires investing in structures and mechanisms to establish and facilitate access to information. We need to institutionalize the FOI program so that it will not be removed or underfunded depending on the whims of the next President.

4. The EO provides administrative liabilities for violations of the EO, but it cannot provide for criminal liability. On the other hand, the law can define what acts constitute crimes and can provide specific administrative and criminal sanctions and penalties (includes imprisonment and fines).

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