Proposed substitute Freedom of Information bill of 2012

On February 3, 2012, President Aquino announced a proposed Freedom of Information bill was transmitted by the Secretary of Budget and Management to administration coalition allies in the House of Representatives. This FOI bill is an integral element of the Aquino Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan of 2012-2016, which the President has recently approved subject to further refinements. This plan contains reforms and initiatives that pursue greater transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in governance.

This draft bill is a result of a consultative process after careful study of similar legislation by an administration study group in order to ensure that it serves public interest without compromising government’s legitimate rights—in other words, balance legitimate needs for secrecy with the public’s right to know

The administration study group is composed of Communications Usec. Manuel L. Quezon III (lead), Sec. Ramon A. Carandang, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Sec. Florencio B. Abad, and Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, in coordination with the stakeholders.

Since the proposed Substitute Bill was submitted to the House, Rep. Erin TaƱada has filed a consolidated bill incorporating the administration proposed Substitute Bill; in the Senate, Senator Gregorio Honasan II has filed a bill also incorporating the administration proposal.

Revised Consolidated FOI 29 Feb 12 House Bill

Senate FOI Bill SB 3183

Admin-FOI

Q and A

Who can ask for information?
Access to Information will be available to every person who is a Filipino citizen.

To whom can we ask for information?
All government agencies (specifically defined under section 3 of the Act).

What information will be made available?
All information pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as government research data used as a basis for policy development, regardless of their physical form or format.

What information will remain classified? (See Section 6 for specific details.)
  • Information specifically authorized to be kept Secret under guidelines established by an executive order, and properly classified.
  • The records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation, invoked by the Chief Executive to be privileged by reason of the sensitivity.
  • Information pertaining to internal and/or external defense, law enforcement, and border control.
  • Drafts of orders, resolutions, decisions, memoranda or audit reports by any executive, administrative, regulatory, constitutional, judicial or quasi-judicial body.
  • Information obtained by any committee of either House of Congress in executive session.
  • Personal information of a natural person other than the requesting party. (See Section 6f for details.)
  • Information pertaining to trade secrets and commercial or financial information that would seriously prejudice industrial, financial, or commercial competition. (See Section 6g for details.)
  • Information classified as privileged communications in legal proceedings by law or by the Rules of Court.
  • Information exempted by law or the Constitution.
What are the advantages of this bill compared to the prior bills filed in Congress?
  • This proposed bill expanded access to financial information such as SALNs of government officials and access to other kinds of information such as transactions by incorporating a provision making the posting/publication mandatory. (See list in Sections 7 and 8.)
  • The public is spared from the tedious work of trying to access information from different agencies when the information is made available in one portal, the Official Gazette website (www.gov.ph) being the official publication for the following information:
- Important legislative acts and resolutions of a public nature of the Congress of the Philippines;
- Executive and administrative orders and proclamations of general application;
- Decisions or abstracts of decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals or other courts of similar rank, as may be deemed of sufficient importance to be so published;
- Such documents or classes of documents as the President shall determine to have general application.
  • The bill asks government agencies to translate key information into major Filipino languages and present them in popular form and means. 
  • All government agencies are required to prepare a Freedom of Information Manual that will contain details and procedures and serve as a guide on the matter.
Procedure of Access (Refer to Section 16 for specifics on the matter)

1.     Request
Submit a request to the government agency concerned personally, by mail, or through electronic means.

2.     Receiving
The request will be stamped by the government agency, indicating the date, time and other details of receipt (refer to Section 16b). In case the request is submitted by electronic means, the government agency shall provide for an equivalent means by which the requirements shall be met.

3.     Waiting time
The government agency shall comply with such request as soon as practicable, and in any case within 15 working days from receipt. The period may be extended for specific cases. (Refer to Section 16e.)

4.     Notification
The government agency shall, in writing or through electronic means, notify the person making the request of the extension, the reasons for extension, and the date the information will be made available (no more than 20 working days).

5.     Grant and Payment
Once a decision is made to grant the request, the person making the request shall be notified of such and pay the required access and processing fees.

What will happen if my request is not granted?
  • The government agency shall notify the person making the request of such denial in writing or through electronic means within 15 working days from the receipt of the request.
  • The notice shall clearly set forth the ground for denial and the circumstances on which the denial is based. Failure to notify shall be deemed a denial of the request for access to information.
  • Following the proper procedure, denial of a request for access to information may be appealed to the Head of Agency, then Ombudsman, then a verified petition for mandamus may be filed in the proper court.
  • The Judiciary shall however will be governed by such remedies as promulgated by the Supreme Court.
Is the Admin Bill a watered down version of the previously filed bills in Congress?
  • No. The Admin Bill in fact expanded the list of mandatory information for disclosure, provided a specific procedure for access, stated the exemptions in a very clear and transparent manner, and directed that the exemptions are to be strictly construed.
What is the next step now that the proposed bill has been submitted to the House released to the public?
  • The work of improving transparency and access to information does not end with the submission of the Admin FOI. For meaningful freedom of information to be achieved, the Aquino Administration is pursuing other initiatives under the GGAC Plan: development of technologies to automate the processing and disclosure of information (e.g. Single Portal for Government Information, Government Integrated Financial Management Information System, Pera ng Bayan and Budget ng Bayan websites, etc.); improving compliance to existing standards (e.g. disclosure of agency budgets, Citizen’s Charters, etc.); among others.
How does FOI relate to the other governance reforms under the Aquino Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan 2012-2016?
  • Greater access to information will, in general, empower citizens to hold their public officials accountable and to participate in government processes that are being opened to them by this administration. For instance, greater access to information on government projects and spending will allow civil society organizations to make more meaningful and accurate inputs to the Participatory Budget and Participatory Audit processes that this administration has initiated. The mandatory posting of SALNs will also empower our government investigators and their citizen-partners to run after corrupt officials.

Additional resources:

PowerPoint presentation:



Sources

(1)    Senate of the Philippines, House Bill 1112, House Bill 3308
(2)    1987 Constitution
(3)    Proposed bill – FOI Act of 2012

SEE LIST: Is your representative among 117 supporting FOI bill?

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