The Freedom on Information (FOI) bill, which has long been pending in Congress, is facing the toughest road yet for its passage with local and national elections just a year away.
The lukewarm treatment that the bill is getting apparently stems from fear of the 292 members of the House of Representatives that their political opponents will use the FOI law to jeopardize their chances in the 2016 polls–a predicament not shared by senators who occupy national positions.
The FOI bill mandates government agencies and public officials to disclose all information pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as government research data used as a basis for policy development.
The House version of the measure, which was approved in December last year, provides for an Open Data provision that specifically requires government agencies to disclose information of public interest, including but not limited to: Statement of Assets and Liabilities of high-ranking officials, the agencies’ annual budget, monthly collections and disbursement, income and expenditures, utilization of the Internal Revenue Allotment, procurement plan/list and contracts, bidding documents, construction or concession agreements or contracts, private sector participation in infrastructure and public funding extended to any private entity, among others.
“There are sentiments that the FOI can be used against them at will. If you are a district representative, or even a party-list lawmaker who has to deal with other persons claiming to be legitimate nominees of your party-list, you will have concerns on FOI because you are in a one-on-one race. If you are running for the Senate, you make the Top 12 and you win,” House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list, one of the FOI authors, said in an interview.
“If your opponent gets hold of your SALN [Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth] , he or she can interpret it in so many ways against you, the incumbent. But then again, the public office is a public trust. You have a strike a balance,” Tugna added.
The FOI has been passed by the Senate on third reading in March 2014.
The House public information panel approved the FOI bill in December 2014 but the measure has not progressed since then.
The law requires truthful filing of the SALN yearly because it is the basic gauge if the politician has used his or her position to gain wealth that is not proportionate to his or her source/s of legitimate income.
“As a politician, your reputation is your liberty. Insinuations, when not countered immediately, can damage that reputation quickly, especially that the public have a very short attention span. Not all of them will verify what they’ve already read,” Tugna pointed out.