Press Release
September 19, 2016


The Senate is poised to override unwarranted exemptions listed by the Executive department in the Freedom of Information (FOI) executive order, Senator Grace Poe announced today, as she noted a strong FOI law crafted by legislators is needed to stamp out corruption and ensure transparency and accountability in the bureaucracy.

Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public information and mass media that held its maiden public hearing on the anti-corruption measure, said while FOI advocates an open government, 166 exceptions for non-disclosure is just too stringent and may be subject to certain abuses.

"Imbes na pintasan natin ang exemptions, hinihingi ko sa bawat resource person ang maaaring sabihin na apprehensions ukol sa specfic exemptions, kasi 166 nga iyon. May mga iba naman doon na legitimate exemptions pero may mga iba din na sa tingin ko ay hindi naman natin kailangang isama pa. Kaya nga kailangan ding pag-aralang mabuti itong mga exemptions na ito kasi we have to make specific mentions of those in the new law so that these will override the executive order," Poe told reporters after the hearing.

Poe assured that the Senate panel will fully scrutinize the exceptions in Executive Order No. 2 covering the Executive branch earlier issued by Malacañang to guarantee that said exceptions shall not be used to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, graft or corruption.

"Palagi naming sinasabing kung ang dahilan ay para pagtakpan ang isang mali, hindi pwedeng gamitin ang Freedom of Information," the senator added, pointing out that the long overdue FOI will cover the entire bureaucracy.

Under Senate Bill No. 159 or An Act Implementing the People's Right to Information and the Constitutional Policies of Full Public Disclosure and Honesty in the Public Service filed by Poe, the public would be granted access to records or information that are under the control of government. The bill listed 13 major exceptions and the information may be withheld if the information requested would jeopardize national security, foreign relations, law enforcement operations, trade and economic secrets, individual's right to privacy, privileged information as considered in judicial proceedings or information made in executive sessions of Congress and those that are covered by presidential communications privilege. These exceptions in the Senate bill were included in the FOI EO, but the Executive deemed it necessary to include a roster of exceptions for non-disclosure, with resource persons in the hearing expressing apprehension on such.

Usability of information available to the public and easy access would also be considered by the lawmakers in the final draft of the measure, Poe said.

"Kahit na may FOI, kung napakahirap naman ng format nito at tatambakan ka ng impormasyon na hindi naman importante, so balewala rin. Sa usability, automatic uploading sa website in a format that is technologically relevant kasi you have to keep updating your system. We have to keep with the times to make sure that access to information is easy," said Poe.

"Having been the longest pending bill in Congress, as the first known FOI bill was filed by the late Sen. Raul Roco, we see the need to finally enact an FOI law as the administration also fully espouses transparency and accountability in the bureaucracy," said Poe.

The next public hearing is set on Sept. 29 at 10 a.m. at the Philippine Senate.

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