PEOPLE’S FOI BILL: A CHALLENGE TO AQUINO & 16TH CONGRESS

1st of July marked the first day of 16th Congress and a historic move has been made by various citizens and organizations with the filing of the People’s FOI Bill pursuant to Republic Act No. 6735 or The Initiative and Referendum Act enacted by the 8th Congress and signed to law last 4 August 1989.

1st of July marked the first day of 16th Congress and a historic move has been made by various citizens and organizations with the filing of the People’s FOI Bill pursuant to Republic Act No. 6735 or The Initiative and Referendum Act enacted by the 8th Congress and signed to law last 4 August 1989.

Under R.A. No. 6735, initiative is defined as “the power of the people to propose amendments to the Constitution or to propose and enact legislations through an election called for the purpose.”  There are three (3) systems of initiative: a) Initiative on the Constitution which refers to a petition proposing amendments to the Constitution; b) Initiative on statutes which refers to a petition proposing to enact a national legislation; and c) Initiative on local legislation which refers to a petition proposing to enact a regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay law, resolution or ordinance.

The People’s FOI Bill takes the form of an initiative by the people.  Collectively known as the “Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition, it is composed of 18 petitioners: Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK); Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM); National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP); Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL); Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO); Social Watch Philippines; Focus on the Global South (Philippines); Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN); Peace Women Partners; Prudentialife Warriors Pilipinas; Filipino Migrant Workers Group (FMWG); Aksyong Kabayanihan Para sa Organisadong Pagbabago (ANGKOP); Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR); Ang Kapatiran Party; Action for Economic Reforms, and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).  There were six concerned citizens who also signed the Petition led by former Rep. Lorenzo Tanada, III.

Some 83 organizations, majority representing the student and youth sectors, are part of the so-called FOI Youth Initiative.  Interesting names in the list are  Akbayan Youth and four other chapters from Cebu; Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of the Philippines Diliman and Los Banos; Kabataang Liberal, and Kaya Natin! 

Section 11 of the Initiative and Referendum Act provides the process by which an initiative prospers in Congress: “Any duly accredited people's organization, as defined by law, may file a petition for indirect initiative with the House of Representatives, and other legislative bodies. The petition shall contain a summary of the chief purposes and contents of the bill that the organization proposes to be enacted into law by the legislature.  The procedure to be followed on the initiative bill shall be the same as the enactment of any legislative measure before the House of Representatives except that the said initiative bill shall have precedence over the pending legislative measures on the committee.”

The presumption of the proposed measure is in favor of access to information but it seems that the operative determination of openness is subjected to requests.  It’s not something one can readily secure. Mandatory disclosure is limited to budget information --procurement information and registry of transactions that are updated regularly on websites of government agencies.

Accordingly, government agencies shall have the burden of proving that the information requested is exempted from disclosure.  Access to information shall be upon request.  It identifies 11 exceptions, that: 1) the information directly relates to national security or defense, foreign relations; 2) is a presidential communication privilege; 3) the information requested pertains to internal and/or external defense enforcement; 4) is upon the exercise of adjudicatory functions; 5) is information during executive session; 6) it pertains to personal information of a natural person; 7) it pertains to trade, industrial, financial or commercial secrets; 8) is classified as privileged communications in legal proceedings; 9) the information requested is exempted by law or the Constitution; 10) is premature disclosure that would render an intended government agency action ineffective; and,11) no meritorious reason is given to justify a repeat of the request.

The measure provides for procedure of access as well as notice and remedies in case of denial.  But the measure still gives government agencies 15 working days to process any request, which is not different from the present system.  Although it is laudable to require all government agencies to prepare and regularly update a People’s Freedom of Information Manual, this can be construed as another potential red tape, or worst a lip service.

The People’s FOI Bill will have to await for the adopted rules of the House of Representatives to determine if the approach can prosper to the committee level.

 

Petition Indirect Initiative on FOI House

Peoples FOI Bill 16th Congress

FYI Network Members Annex B Indirect Initiaive for FOI

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