The proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) Act aims to mandate the disclosure of public documents. The proposed bill also outlines the exceptions for public disclosure and the procedures for accessing public documents.
On Monday, March 10, 2014, the Senate passed the FOI bill on third and final reading, with 22 affirmative votes, no abstention, and no negative votes.
House of Representatives
The Committee of Public Information of the House of Representatives has formed a technical working group (TWG) to expedite the passage of the house version. The TWG has conducted regular meetings to discuss the provisions last February to June. Resource persons from the different offices from the executive participated in the meetings. The Office of the President was represented by Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III.
On October 23, 2013, Camarines Sur Third District Representative Maria Leonor G. Robredo filed House Bill No. 3237, otherwise known as “An Act to Strengthen the Right of Citizens to Information held by the Government.”
Both the above bills follow the proposed FOI bill approved by President Benigno S. Aquino III, which was transmitted to the previous Congress by the Secretary of Budget and Management, Florencio Abad. Secretary Abad resubmitted the bill to the current Congress as well.
This FOI bill is an integral element of the Aquino Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan of 2012-2016. This plan lays out reforms and initiatives that pursue greater transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in governance.
This draft bill is a result of a consultative process conducted by an administration study group after careful study of similar legislation in order to balance the government’s legitimate needs for secrecy with the public’s right to know.
The administration study group was composed of Communications Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III (lead), Secretary Ramon A. Carandang, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Secretary Florencio B. Abad, and Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, in coordination with the stakeholders.
The proposed bills
House Bill No. 3237
Senate Bill No. 1733
Proposed 2013 Freedom of Information Bill
Q and A
Who can ask for information?
Every Filipino citizen.
To whom can we ask for information?
All government agencies (specifically defined under section 3 of the proposed bill).
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 its 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 the tedious work of trying to access certain 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.)
Submit a request to the government agency concerned either personally, by mail, or through electronic means.
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.)
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., National 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.
(1) Senate Bill No. 1733
(2) House Bill No. 3237
(3) 1987 Constitution
(4) Proposed bill – FOI Act of 2013