LIKE their boss in Malacañang, the congressmen working for President Aquino in the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the House Committee on Public Information don’t care about the national interest at all.
One of the crucial requirements for authentic reforms in public service to ensure good governance and the possibility of radically curtailing corruption is a good Freedom of Information Law. Such a law must allow the public–and its working delegates, the journalists–to have access to the files of government agencies. Without transparency the Tuwid na Daan can never be achieved. And a good FOI Act is necessary for transparency in government offices and sincerity of government officials in answering questions from the people.
The latest version of the FOI bill in the House of Representatives is a consolidation by the TWG of several versions. Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon exposes this version, recently released, as something that contains “more restrictions to information access than freedom.”
Rep. Ridon is an author of House Bill 347, which is one of the 24 FOI bills consolidated by the TWG.
He said that the draft consolidated bill includes several exceptions to the granting of access to information which “restrict rather than ease access to government documents and information.”
The draft consolidated FOI bill, he said, “has morphed from a bill that provides easy and open access to government data to a bill that primarily lists down restrictions.”
The documents and data that cannot be accessed because they are on the restrictions list in Section 7 of the TWG-released draft consolidated bill include:
–Information “authorized to be kept secret under guidelines established by an executive order”
–Records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation
–Information pertaining to “internal and/or external defense, law enforcement, and border control”
–Draft orders, resolutions, decisions, memoranda, audit report etc.
–Information obtained by Congress in executive session
Rep. Ridon said that if these restrictions are passed into law, the FOI Act will ironically become an instrument to prevent access to information about several areas vital to public interest.
“The draft consolidated bill essentially empowers the Executive – primarily – to decide on which information may be disclosed to the public and which information should remain in the impenetrable shroud of secrecy,” the lawmaker said.
“For example, the president can easily cloak details pertinent to the assailed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) through the use of one or a combination of provisions listed in Section 7. Remember how difficult it was to obtain more detailed information on DAP? The situation could get worse if the exceptions in the draft consolidated bill passes into law,” Ridon said.
“It’s the same case for the pork barrel system. Remember how House leaders discussed in so-called ‘executive session’ the details of the new pork scheme?” he added.
“The consolidated bill – for the large part – enlarges the powers and control of the President and his Cabinet over government information. Passing these restrictions into law will defeat the stated purpose of the FOI bill,” Ridon stressed.
“The bill will still undergo further discussions and debates. Certainly, we will do everything to ensure that the restrictive provisions will not pass into law. We cannot let the Palace nor anyone with vested interests sabotage the people’s clamor for genuine freedom of information by inserting debilitating restrictions to the proposed law.
“The Filipino people don’t deserve a watered-down bill that will just enlarge the already-immense powers of the presidency. What we need is a law that will genuinely ease public access to government data and help Filipinos obtain the information they need to be free and self-governing. Anything short of that should be expunged and opposed,” Ridon said.
Therefore it would be a Restriction of Information Law or an ROI Law.