Press Release
March 10, 2014

Senate passes FOI bill

Running 22 votes of all senators present, the Senate today passed on third and final reading the Freedom of Information bill.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, a known supporter of the bill, welcomed the development, saying that it will "enable the public to take a significant part in curbing corruption in Philippine bureaucracy."

He said the FOI bill will encourage the people to take active participation in the governance process as the measure will introduce new levels of accountability in every aspect of our country's public service, opening it to increased public scrutiny.

"The disclosure of government actions under the FOI bill will be a crucial and effective deterrent against possible malfeasance and corrupt practices by those in power. The proposed legislation is our way of acknowledging that the people's eye is the most potent tool against corruption in our government," Drilon said. Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Committee on People's Public Information and Mass Media and sponsor of Senate Bill 1733, also known as the FOI bill, said the measure aims to eliminate corruption in the bureaucracy by opening government transactions to the public and holding government officials accountable for their actions.

Poe said studies showed that graft and corruption were minimized in countries with strong Freedom of Information law. In the United States for instance, she said, the number of graft convictions nearly doubled in the first three to eight years after the FOI law was strengthened.

According to Poe, 94 nations have already enacted their own FOI legislation while another 53 countries are in the process of ratifying their respective FOI laws.

"The FOI will not only prevent graft and corruption but more importantly, our citizens will learn to get involved and participate in government matters," Poe said during her sponsorship speech.

Under the measure, Poe said, Filipino citizens will have the right to request and be granted access to records or information that is under the control of government unless the information requested would jeopardize national security, foreign relations, law enforcement operations, trade and economic secrets, individual's right to privacy, privileged information as considered in judicial proceedings or information made in executive sessions of Congress and those that are covered by presidential privilege.

These exemptions however, she said, shall not be used to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, graft or corruption, or other illegal activities.

Once the proposed legislation is enacted into law, Poe said, government officials are required to act and/or comply the request for information within 15 working days.

Poe said the proposed legislation will cover all government agencies and instrumentalities, including the executive, legislative, judicial branches of government, local governments as well as government-owned- and controlled corporations (GOCCs) and government financial institutions (GFIs).

Poe said government agencies will also be required to upload on their websites the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and New Worth (SALNs) of the President, Vice President, Cabinet members, senators, congressmen, justices of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional bodies and officers of the Armed Forces and Philippine National Police bearing star ranks and government officials with salary grade 27 and above and head of agencies.

Likewise, all information pertaining to annual budget, monthly disbursements, IRA utilization, procurement plan, list of the agencies' vacant positions, items for bidding and its corresponding results, contracts entered into the government with any domestic or foreign entity, bilateral or multilateral treaties, licenses or permits granted to any entity for the extraction of natural resources and loans entered into by the government from any domestic or foreign financial institutions shall be uploaded on the websites, according to Poe.

"Any loan or transaction entered into by any government agency amounting to at least P50 million shall be uploaded in full on the website of the concerned government agency or the Official Gazette online," she said.

Poe said all government agencies will be required to set up their respective FOI-complaint websites within two years after the law takes into effect. Data uploaded in the websites should also be easily understood by the general public.

"Government agencies will use plain language and if possible, translate important information into major Filipino dialects so that people will be able to appreciate the information better. Dapat madaling maintindihan ang mga data at impormasyon," she stressed. Poe said government officers who violate the FOI Act will be criminally and administratively liable with penalties ranging from suspension or dismissal from service to imprisonment of not less one month but not more than six months.

As part of the measure's advocacy, Poe said, FOI will be taught in public schools and integrated in subjects such as Heyograpiya, Kasaysayan at Sibika (HEKASI) and Araling Panlipunan for the elementary level or Social Studies and Makabayan for the high school level.

"Para bata pa lang alam na nila ang karapatan nila," Poe explained. (Pilar Gina S. Macrohon).

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