The Senate on Monday passed on third and final reading the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, but a counterpart measure in House of Representatives remains pending at the committee level.
Voting 21-0, the Senate passed the proposed measure that will enable the public to take a significant part in curbing corruption in the bureaucracy.
Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Committee on People’s Public Information and Mass Media and sponsor of Senate Bill 1733, said the measure aims to eliminate corruption in the bureaucracy by opening government transactions to the public and holding government officials accountable for their actions.
Poe also cited studies which showed that graft and corruption were minimized in countries where there is a strong FOI.
In the United States, the number of graft convictions nearly doubled in the first three to eight years of the enactment of the law, Poe said.
“The FOI will not only prevent graft and corruption but more importantly, our citizens will learn to get involved and participate in government matters,” Poe said in her speech.
One of the key features of the measure is ensuring Filipinos’ right to request and be granted access to records or information under the control of government and instrumentalities, including the executive, legislative, judicial branches, local governments as well as government-owned- and controlled corporations (GOCCs) and government financial institutions (GFIs).
The measure limits public access to information including those that 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 privilege.
Poe said the exemptions will not be used to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, graft or corruption, or other illegal activities.
Once the proposed legislation is enacted into law, Poe said, government officials are required to act and/or comply the request for information within 15 working days.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the measure will introduce new levels of accountability in every aspect of public service, opening it to increased public scrutiny.
He noted that the disclosure of government actions under the FOI bill will be a crucial and effective deterrent against malfeasance and corrupt practices by those in power.
“The proposed legislation is our way of acknowledging that the people’s eye is the most potent tool against corruption in our government,” Drilon said.
Senate majority leader Alan Peter Cayetano called on his fellow lawmakers in the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the House version of the FOI bill.
Cayetano said it is now up to the House to pass the landmark bill.
The measure was approved by the Senate in the 15th and 14th Congress, but it failed to hurdle deliberations in the House.
Sen. JV Ejercito, one of the authors of the FOI bill, said its passage indicates the Senate’s strong political will in achieving transparency and accountability in government.