MANILA, Philippines - The Senate committed yesterday to pass the Freedom of Information Bill before next year’s elections.
Five months after the House of Representatives approved House Bill 3732, its counterpart, Senate Bill 3308, remains under interpellation.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and other senators assured members of Right to Know, Right Now! Network from over 70 organizations of journalists, academics, workers, youth, businessmen, religious and civil society leaders, and some members of Congress that they would pass SB 3308 on second reading.
Hopefully we will be able to approve this on second reading and when we get back (on Dec. 1), we will approve this on third and final reading,” he said.
The group marched to the Senate and rallied for the approval of the bill.
Advocates of a freedom of information law have been going to the 12th, 13th and 14th Congresses.
Zubiri said interpellation on the Senate bill might be delayed because Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Senate committee on public information and mass media chairman, is still abroad.
However, Cayetano, in a statement to media, urged his peers to support the passage of SB 3308.
“The Freedom of Information (Act) once implemented will change the existing paradigm and cycle of corruption,” read the statement.
“It is a game changer. It will allow every citizen to participate more effectively in the fight against corruption. It will help ensure transparency and governance and in the process empower the people.
“Once enacted, it will provide the enabling law to the constitutional guarantee and mandate on the people’s right to information, making it easier to monitor spending and use of government funds and filing cases against those who refuse to disclose information on matters of public concern.”
The bill would equip the people to fight anomalous transactions and prevent mega deals gone bad, Cayetano said.
Sen. Manuel Roxas II, author of Senate Bill 109, the Free Information Bill, seeks to require government offices to answer all queries for information within two days, under pain of stiff penalties, unless sufficient justification is given.
An office may only refuse to provide information when this would jeopardize the privacy of individuals, national security, public order, foreign diplomatic and economic relations, and trade secrets of private entities, he added.
Sen. Francis Escudero also backed the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill before the Senate adjourns for next year’s elections.
“This is a measure that will go a long way in our people’s fight against graft and corruption in high places and boost transparency in government. Its time has come,” he said.
Escudero asked the Senate to act on a bill requiring all public officials and employees to waive the exemption of their deposit accounts from the bank secrecy law.
Senate Bill 1476 was one of the first bills he filed during his first year as a senator in 2007.
The waiver will be made in favor of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to enable these agencies to compel financial institutions here and abroad to provide information and documents on financial assets, deposits, investments in bonds and securities of civil servants.
The Freedom on Information Bill seeks to uphold the right of the people to information on matters of public concern and the state policy of full disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.
Escudero proposed amendments to the bill to ensure that official records related to loans obtained or guaranteed by government; government contracts; statements of asset, liabilities, and net worth of government officials; and those pertaining to official investigations on graft and corrupt practices of public officers would not be destroyed.
Escudero also seeks the creation of a records management program to allow easy identification, retrieval and communication of information to the public.
He also proposes that a database in digital and online form be set up for all laws, presidential issuances, and appointments, and opinions of the secretary of justice.
“This will aid us all in maintaining institutional memory,” he said.
“Rascals and malefactors have always found comfort in the fact that we seem to have very short memory as a people.”
Escudero was among the senators who signed the committee report on SB 3308 last June 3.
The bill was jointly sponsored by the committees on public information and mass media, and on civil service and government reorganization.