A harsher Freedom of Information (FOI) bill has been filed in the House of Representatives.
The measure, House Bill 161, was filed by Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte. It seeks six months imprisonment for government officials who refuse to open government records to the public.
The 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.
During the 16th Congress, the FOI bill was approved on the committee level in November 2014 but it was never sponsored for plenary debates.
The House version of the FOI has an Open Data provision that requires government agencies to disclose information of public interest which include but not limited to Statement of Assets and Liabilities of high-ranking officials, government 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, public funding extended to any private entity, among others.
“The people’s right to information on matters of public concern has a deep historical foundation. Its inclusion in the Bill of Rights was neither a spur of the moment, nor whimsical,” Belmonte said in his explanatory note for the bill.
“FOI is an offshoot of the long and persistent struggle of the people for genuine reforms, transparency and accountability in governance, and an indispensable element of the right to free speech, expression and people’s initiative,” he added.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte said he is reviewing the draft of an executive order on FOI that he said will be implemented this week.