ANTI-corruption advocates on Thursday called on lawmakers to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill and “prove to the Filipino people that they have nothing to hide.”
Dante Jimenez, chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), noted that the measure seemed to have been overtaken by social media where even confidential information could be found.
“It is difficult to keep things secret because of social media… So why is it taking lawmakers so long to pass the freedom of information law?” Jimenez said in an interview.
The VACC chairman cited the hearings of the House justice committee on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, wherein information that should have been confidential were shared by witnesses and lawmakers themselves.
Jimenez cited as an example House justice committee chairman Reynaldo Umali, who revealed in a radio interview how Supreme Court justices voted for Sereno to take an indefinite leave, based on information given to him by a Supreme Court source.
He also cited the word war between Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office director Sandra Cam and Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves after the former accused the lawmaker of controlling the gambling operations in his province during a House committee hearing on the Small Town Lottery project.
Jimenez said the allegation against the congressman could have been verified or even proven wrong if there was a freedom of information law.
“Suspicion that lawmakers do not want to pass the FOI bill because they have their own vested interest and businesses to protect are getting strong because of the delay of the passage of the law,” Jimenez said.
Both chambers of Congress have their respective versions of the FOI bill.
Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 1208 in October 2016. It is pending on second reading.
The House public information committee led by Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy approved its version of the FOI bill in August 2017 but it has not moved since.
An executive order mandating the public disclosure of information in offices under the executive branch was among the first orders signed by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office in 2016.
Heads of agencies and officers who fail to comply with the order will face administrative cases.
SB 1208 is pushing for proactive disclosure, meaning certain information must be published or be made accessible to the public, even without the public requesting for such information.
The measure will cover the Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature, and provides for mandatory disclosures of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of public officials.
SB 1208 calls for both administrative and criminal liabilities for violators.
Jimenez said the FOI would be an effective tool in the government’s fight against corruption.
“Let information be transparent if you are in public service,” he said.