Press Release
September 19, 2016

FOI Hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media

In this maiden hearing of the Senate committee on public information and mass media on various proposals to enact a Freedom of Information Law and fully implement a constitutional provision of the people's right to information on matters of public concern, we sought from various groups their comments and proposals on how to improve the FOI bill. The committee wishes to extend its appreciation to members of the media, various media organizations, concerned advocacy groups and the business community for apprising the committee on the need to pass an FOI law considering that the Philippines is considered the longest running democracy in the region.

To sum up the hearing, the committee tackled 13 Senate bills filed by various senators. The FOI advocate, former Congressman Erin Tañada, Atty. Irene Aguila of the Right to Know, Right Now Coalition and National Press Club President Paul Gutierrez expressed a bit of apprehension on the 166 exemptions cited in the FOI executive order. So I, in turn, am asking you for specifics on those exceptions that you feel need to be clarified in our version of the bill. It was also mentioned by Congressman Tañada that perhaps it has to be included in our bill, that we need to be able to specify which of the exceptions in the EO will not be included in our version of the bill.

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, represented by its chairman, Herman Basbaño, for its part, said personal files or records that form part of public records such as marriage, birth and death certificates should be made available and accessible to the media, but not necessarily medical records of public officials. Media should not be required to comply with the "prior written request" for them to relay news to the public.

Archiving and record-keeping should be upgraded as these are crucial in accessing government records.

There is a need to revisit Memorandum Circular No. 78 of 1964 promulgating rules governing security of classified matters in government offices should not be used as a blanket authority for non-disclosure of important information. Further, executive issuances and departmental notices should not add to the exemptions of non-disclosure provided by the constitution, law and jurisprudence. There must be a well-defined and efficient mechanism to declassify "classified" documents.

Interaksyon Editor-in-Chief Roby Alampay pointed out the usability of information and standardization of formats of information. An FOI Law is long overdue. Public disclosure of information encourages greater care on the part of the government. Information released should be fully understandable and free of technical jargon that even ordinary citizens would be able to access it.

It is also mentioned by Mr. Basbaño that not everyone has internet access and I think that an ordinary farmer.. That's why I filed the Plain Writing bill, it should be easily understood. The FOI desk officer should make an effort to explain to those that need assistance.

Having been the longest pending bill in Congress as the first known FOI bill was filed by the late Sen. Raul Roco, we see the need to finally enact an FOI Law as the administration also fully espouses transparency and accountability in the bureaucracy.

I would like to thank the senators who attended today's hearing and contributed to our discussions.

This hearing is hereby suspended until the next hearing on September 29 at 10 a.m. and we will be having representatives from government to give their comments because they will be directly affected by this and of course you are certainly welcome to attend. Thank you.

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