APART from providing public free access to government information the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill should also mandate proper government agencies to publish, not only the basic salary, but also the allowances and other sources of personal income of all public officials, more particularly, legislators, Senator Miriam Santiago said Monday.
Santiago, in a rare appearance in the Senate plenary session to interpellate on the pending FOI bill sponsored by Sen. Grace Poe, said that she will file an amendment to the FOI that will make sure that all additional income of government officials will be accessible to the public.
“The basic monthly salary of a senator is P90,000. But in all, the total monthly income of a senator, allowed by law, could reach as much as P1.5 million monthly,” she said during her interpellation.
Santiago particularly wants the Senate to stop the practice of giving maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
“Let us dismantle the MOOE, which is a source of additional income for every senator. Let us list down all the senators’ sources of income, including their MOOE, chairmanship of certain committees, or even just by becoming a member of oversight committees, or of the Commission on Appointments,” she added.
Poe for her part said that she would welcome Santiago’s amendment.
At the same time Santiago also said that congress should be prepared to answer constitutional issues that might be raised in relation with the FOI bill.
According to the senator there are two provisions in the Bill of Rights which might clash with each other: the Privacy of Communications, and the Right to Information.
Under the Bill of Rights, the provision of communications and correspondence shall be inviolable. On the other hand, the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.
“We have to be able to finish the antagonism between these two provisions lest critics question the constitutionality of the FOI law in the Supreme Court,” she said.
Santiago said that the FOI bill should be reconciled with the existing Data Privacy Act and other laws.
In her interpellation, She stressed that the law must draw a distinction between on the one hand, “the mandatory duty to disclose; and on the other hand, the duty to permit access to information.
She also pointed out that the President of the Philippines has the “presidential communication privilege,” while other executive officials are entitled to the “deliberative process privilege.”
“The Senate should be careful because the presidential communications privilege is a form of executive privilege and is rooted in the separation of powers,” Santiago said. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA