Press Release
December 17, 2012

POGI Bill gets Senate nod

The Senate approved on third and final reading a bill that allows ordinary citizens access to information on matters of public concern. Sponsored by Senator Gringo Honasan II, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, Senate Bill No. 3208, also known as the People's Ownership of Government Information (POGI) Act of 2012, was approved with 17 affirmative votes, zero negative votes and zero abstentions.

Co-sponsored by Senators Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV and Franklin Drilon, the measure also seeks to address the legal loopholes that have allowed government agencies to openly disregard the people's right to information.

"The Philippines is a democratic and republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government emanates from them," Honasan said.

"Our democratic government is a Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but the prevailing reality is that most of our less privileged Filipino brethren are born, struggle to survive, and die without knowing that they are the rightful and constitutional owners of this beautiful country," he added.

"If we are serious about the sustainable development of our democracy as we are about our economy, transparency and open government must be at its core," Honasan continued.

According to Honasan, freedom of information, tempered effectively by a corresponding sense of responsibility, will drastically reduce, if not eradicate, highly-placed syndicates and conspiracies, and "excesses of partisan politics".

"As early on observed by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1928 case of Springer vs. Government of the Philippine Islands, the great ordinances of our constitution do not establish and divide fields of black and white," Honasan said.

Adds Honasan, "in response to this challenge and the call of our people, this measure seeks to fortify the people's right of ownership over information held by the people's government."

A similar measure called the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2010 (SBN 2354), authored by Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, had earlier hurdled the Bicameral Conference Committee with Congress opting to adopt the Senate version. The proposed measure was returned to the Committees on Public Information and Mass Media, Civil Service and Government Reorganization, and Finance, with President Noynoy Aquino requesting that it be thoroughly reviewed before he certified it as urgent.

Under the POGI Bill, the government agency should explain before the court why it did not release the information.

Full disclosure of information on projects, transactions, documents and records pertaining to public interest must be made public by posting the said information on government websites, and preferably translated into major Filipino dialects for easier comprehension, the measure indicated.

"It is the state's responsibility to make information available to the public, to set up practical and viable mechanisms to ensure the availability of information and prevent its abuse," Honasan added.

The proposed measure also mandates government agencies to grant requests for access to information within fifteen15 days from receipt of the request.

Certain exceptions to the peoples' right to information were cited in the bill. These include, among others, information pertaining to national security, where information may be withheld if the revelation of information will create a clear and present danger of war, invasion or any external threat to the country.

It also exempts records of minutes, advice or opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation proceedings of all branches of government.

The measure also exempts requests for information pertaining to the personal information of a natural person other than the requesting party to protect their right to privacy, unless he or she has consented, in writing, to the disclosure of information.

"Today, much has yet to be accomplished in the journey to freedom," Honasan said. "The POGI Bill and our mission to give meaning to democracy are important milestones on this journey."

According to Honasan, the freedom of speech and of the press will always have to be balanced with the right to life and honor as constitutional principles, but in all instances, he added, the balance between disclosure and secrecy must always be guided by the "north star of public interest."

The Senate had earlier approved the measure on second reading after Honasan accepted Sen. Miriam Santiago's amendment removing a provision requiring each government agency to regularly publicize, print and disseminate the statements of assets, liabilities and net-worth (SALN) of all government officials.

SBN 3208 was filed in substitution of Senate Bill Nos. 11, 25, 126, 149, 158, 162, 1254, 1440, 1773, 2086, 2189, 2283, 2354, and 3183. (YVONNE ALMIRAÑEZ, PRIB)

News Latest News Feed