Speed up passage of FOI law, say CIBAC lawmakers

CIBAC Party-List Representative and House Deputy Speaker Bro Eddie Villanueva urges lawmakers to fast track the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill as Congress starts tackling the bill today.

The House Committee on Public Information has started today the deliberations of various FOI bills filed at the House of Representatives, including House Bill 1975 authored by CIBAC Representatives Bro. Eddie Villanueva and Domeng Rivera.

“I beseech my fellow lawmakers to expedite passing this measure. We need the FOI law now more than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has created more opportunities for corruption to flourish. If we will not have this FOI bill urgently passed into law, we will just continue to expose our government resources to be devoured by scrupulous and rent-seeking individuals – at the detriment of our Filipino people. We need to raise our demands of transparency and accountability now more than any time before,” said Deputy Speaker Villanueva, House Deputy Speaker for Governance and Moral Uprightness.

“Social and physical distancing in this COVID-19 pandemic does not stop corruption; conversely, it even opens opportunities for shady deals to flourish behind people’s backs. We badly need a mechanism to put officials accountable even while people are within the confines of their homes. The FOI will bridge that gap,” said Villanueva.The FOI bill provides the people the legal presumption in favor of access to information. This means that the government agency has the burden of proof to prove otherwise that a certain document or information must not be disclosed based on a list of exemptions provided also in the bill. The bill enumerated a list of clear exemptions that will not be covered by the policy of full disclosure. 
Among these exemptions are information relating to national security, right to privacy on personal and sensitive information, trade and financial secrets as well as privileged communication. The measure likewise provides for the procedure of access by which citizens can obtain public information as well as legal remedies in case of denials

“The free flow of information will also be our vehicle towards recovery. Unhampered access to information will lead to better policies, informed decisions of the people as well as fair level playing field for business firms and other economic entities,” adds the CIBAC lawmaker.

According to the CIBAC solon, the current pandemic has caused the government to have expanded budgets and acquire more loans in order to sustain COVID-19 response efforts. The large economic stimulus, the loans, the local and international contracts for vaccines and other health-care supplies and facilities are always in the danger of being ‘cash cows’ for opportunistic persons.

The CIBAC lawmaker emphasizes the need for FOI law as a necessary tool to help the country’s fight against graft and corruption. He notes that in the past decade, the prevalence of corruption in the country remains unchanged as evidenced by hardly improving scores in the annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by international watchdog Transparency International. In 2020, the Philippines ranked 115th out of 180 countries and had a score of 34 (100 is very clean while zero is highly corrupt) which is lower than the average score of 45 for the Asia Pacific.

The bill also galvanizes the policy of full disclosure in the government by obligating certain information to be mandatorily and automatically disclosed in government agencies websites or places of display. These include the Sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SAN), bids and bidding results for government projects, procurement contracts entered by the government either locally or internationally, bilateral or multilateral agreements, and loans from local and international financial institutions, among others. There will be administrative and criminal liabilities for any government officer or employee who will withhold information contrary to the provisions of the bill.

“With FOI law, wielders of government powers and funds will be perpetually within the eyes of the public because government transactions are mandated to be disclosed anytime and anywhere. Refusal to make such disclosure of information will mean administrative or criminal penalties for the erring government officer,” says CIBAC Rep. Domeng Rivera.

“Tayo po ay nagpapasalamat sa liderato ng Kamara dahil sinimulan na ang pagtalakay ng FOI bill ngayong araw. Kami po ay nananawagan sa kapwa naming Mambabatas na agaran natin itong ipasa upang maging sandata ng ating mamamayan upang labanan ang katiwalian at pagmamalabis sa ating pamahalaan,” ends Rep. Rivera.

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