FOI law to halt graft related to pandemic response, solons say


WITH the start of committee deliberati­ons on the Freedom of Informatio­n (FOI) bills, lawmakers on Wednesday renewed their call for the immediate passage of the measure, saying the “Covid-19 pandemic has created more opportunit­ies for corruption to f lourish.”

House Deputy Speaker Bro. Eddie Villanueva said the country needs the FOI law “now more than ever before.”

According to Villanueva, 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 healthcare supplies and facilities are always in danger of being ‘cash cows’ for opportunis­tic persons,” he said.

The House Committee on Public Informatio­n has started deliberati­ons of various FOI bills filed at the House of Representa­tives, including his House Bill 1975.

“I beseech my fellow lawmakers to expedite passing this measure. 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—to the detriment of our Filipino people. We need to raise our demands of transparen­cy and accountabi­lity now more than any time before,” said Villanueva, the 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 f lourish 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,” he added.

The FOI bill provides people the legal presumptio­n in favor of access to informatio­n. This means that the government agency has the burden of proving that a certain document or informatio­n must not be disclosed based on a list of exemptions provided also in the bill.

Villanueva said the bill listed 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,” added the CIBAC lawmaker.

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 (SALN), 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 withholds informatio­n contrary to the provisions of the bill, said Villanueva.

Parañaque City Rep. Joy Tambunting, author of House Bill 644, said the adoption of a policy of full public disclosure of government transactio­ns guarantees the right of the people to informatio­n on matters of public concern. As of March 31, Presidenti­al Communicat­ions Undersecre­tary and FOI Program Director Kris Ablan told lawmakers they received a total of 87,417 FOI requests.

For the classifica­tion of EFOI users, 12,388 users (29 percent) were coming from the academe, 8571 (20 percent) were from the government, 4615 (11 percent) were from the local government, 2678 (6 percent) were from civil society organizati­ons, 743 (1 percent) were from the media, and 13,739 (32 percent) were from other users.

According to Ablan, the success rate for FOI requests is at 48 percent.

He said a total of 4,206 FOI receiving officers have been designated across government agencies, while 520 agencies are currently onboard the EFOI portal.

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