Press Release
September 29, 2016

Transcript of Sen. Grace Poe's Opening Statement
FOI Hearing, Senate Session Hall

Good morning. Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. This hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, will now come to order.

The Senate did not just tackle the FOI bill in the past; it had, it had actually, unanimously approved it in the 16th Congress in record time. March 10, 2014 it was already approved in the Senate.

If it were up to me, I will just push the rewind button and replay the previous proceedings. But Senate rules dictate that we start again from square one. However, this doesn't mean that we will be starting from zero.

We will also build on our past victories, on the rich trove of accumulated ideas, and these will definitely accelerate the approval of the bill. So that, hopefully by December or January, at the latest, the Senate would pass an FOI bill for the second, and hopefully, the last time.

If you recall, the President specifically prodded Congress to pass a more comprehensive FOI bill, one that will cover the legislative and judicial branches. Therefore, this bill responds to the presidential challenge. But above all, it meets the demand of the people.

As I've mentioned before, although the President's EO is laudable, and we thank him for it, there is still an urgent need to pass a freedom of information law, so that the scope will not just be on the executive but also on the other branches of government..

Thus, we are not giving up, we are not going to make an exact replica. Rather, we will strive to improve the material before us, so that the committee report in this chamber will be a superior piece of legislation.

As we buckle down to work, allow me to breeze through the elements of an excellent FOI law, for our collective guidance.

First is the presumption of release. This means that there is a blanket coverage for all public information and that all official documents are assumed to be open to the public, unless expressly prohibited by the law.

Second is the requirement of clearly-defined exceptions. These are the non-disclosure areas, typically on matters of national security, operational security, trade secrets, diplomatic security, and presidential privilege. Also included are information that could compromise law enforcement operations, endanger the life of an individual, or constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual's right to privacy.

Maglalagay po tayo ng 'Do not enter' signs but in delineating no-go zones, we must see to it that they are clearly-defined. The danger with vaguely-worded exceptions is that they render the FOI law useless.

Third is the creation of implementing mechanisms and agencies. Dapat matukoy kung ano ang gagawin at kung sino.

The fourth trait of a good FOI law deals with efficiency and timeliness. For FOI to be effective, citizens must have access to what experts call "actionable data," one that is immediately usable or which can be used to intervene on an urgent concern.

Typically, what we see on government websites today are "after-the-fact" data. Ibig sabihin, imbes na impormasyon na makakapigil ng suntukan, ang datos na nakukuha ay yaong tapos na ang boksing.

Ang panglimang katangian ay ang pagtatalaga ng mga parusa sa anumang paglabag sa FOI Law. Ito ang tinatawag nila na fear factor. Without penalties, a law will be more honored in breach than in observance.

Sa puntong ito, gusto kong ipagdiinan na ang FOI po ay hindi lang para sa mga mamamahayag, pero higit sa lahat ito ay para sa mamamayan. There is this presumption that FOI is purposely designed for journalists as aid in writing investigate pieces. But FOI is not just for the press, it is for the people.

Let us also ensure that the bill we will craft does empower agencies to carry out the mandate of the law. Agencies, to borrow a bureaucratic term, must be "capacitated" so they can effectively organize their information management systems and allow them to observe best record-keeping practices that would enable easy access and retrieval of information.

Also an FOI Law should not just inform but educate. For example, the monitoring and dissemination of information in trafficking hotspots of OFWs should be made available so they will not go there. There should be an education component on FOI so they will be educated on their rights and precaution. An FOI law should make the life of people easier, for example, there should be a one-stop shop for OFWs, which is accessible online so they do not have to go to the embassy anymore for certain circumstances. Processing of papers should also be an available service online. If an OFW was abused, or was a victim of trafficking or his or her employer took away their passports, saan sila pupunta? Dapat kahit online manlang makakapagsumbong sila.

In today's hearing, we have invited the representatives from different government agencies, because the law will directly affect your work in government. Kung baga, kung mayroong pinatatamaan ng bill at kung mayroon mang kailangang mag-implementa nito, kayo iyun.

Having said this, we shall now commence our public hearing.

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