FOI bill tossed to plenary

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The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill was finally tossed for plenary debates three months after it was approved by the House public information committee.

The move came after the House appropriations committee unanimously approved the budget for the FOI measure.

“We are happy with the decision of the appropriations committee to approve the appropriations provision of the bill, consequently, approving the FOI budget. The budget is one of the crucial components of the bill as it determines if the bill could be successfully implemented,” Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez, one of the FOI authors, pointed out on Wednesday.

“Without the budget, efforts to pass the bill to ensure government transparency and practice of governance will simply end up as a shot in the dark,” Gutierrez said.

“We are optimistic that the bill, when approved, would enable all agencies of all branches of government to comply with the requirements of the FOI law on mandatory disclosure,” he added.

In addition, the FOI measure mandates government agencies to publish and regularly update their FOI Manual in full that should contain necessary information on contact addresses of key offices and personnel and procedures on how the information shall be accessed.

Also, public interests records concerning particular agencies are required to be published regularly on their websites—meaning website of each agency must contain documents about its annual budget, itemized monthly collections and disbursement, summary of income and expenditures, annual procurement plan and procurement list, bidding items and results of transactions, as well as pertinent documents and records of transactions and meetings that are vested with public interest.

All agencies’ websites are further required to maintain a “cyber office” wherein all necessary information about an agency, types and forms of services it offers and standard procedures of access are provided and made readily available to the public online.

All government agencies are also required to set up a compliant website within two years from the approval of the FOI bill so as to grant agencies elbow room to build their capacity in fulfilling all requirements for mandatory disclosure provided by the law.

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