FOI bill finally gets approval from Senate panel

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By Azer Parrocha

MANILA, 19Sept2013 – The Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, after its second and final hearing, approved the Freedom of Information bill Wednesday.

It was led by Sen. Grace Poe, who began saying the Committee is determined to submit its Committee Report by next week after an assessment of all the position documents in the last Three Congresses when FOI was deliberated.

Poe said that targets for the FOI will be the submission of the Committee Report on Sept 23 and the legislation’s sponsorship by Sept 25.

Among the first to speak during the hearing was political analyst Prof. Clarita Carlos who said that the nature of scholars was to tell stories.

“Without access to documents, our work as scholars will seriously be stymied,” Carlos said.

“An FOI will only work best if your government database is existing, verifiable,” she said. “Maybe we should also have access to how much people are earning.”

Former Rep Erin Tañada, who championed FOI in the House, meanwhile, explained that recent events should be a wake-up call to allow our citizens a mechanism to protect themselves from abuse of government resources.

Tañada said that he is glad to hear that the FOI will be part of the agenda in the coming Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council meeting.

It was confirmed by Presidential Communication Operations Office Assistant Secretary Jess Anthony Yu.

“This is first time it’s part of the agenda. We hope for strong push,” Tañada said.

“Nothing to hide”

Editor in chief of Interaksyon Roby Alampay said that the media have been critical of the President because of “his perplexing and softening stand on FOI”.

“Nothing will herald new dawn more clearly than passing a law that tells Filipinos here is government, we have nothing to hide,” he said.

“The objective is deeper: people want to know how taxes being spent,” he added.

“We want to include in the bill some definition not only of accessibility but also usability of the data.”

For the longest time

It was, however, blogger Tonyo Cruz, who brought to the Senate the most memorable piece when he started off by saying that the FOI was the next best thing to putting CCTV in government offices.

Cruz further impressed the Senate by illustrating how long the FOI was in existence since 1992, noting that it prevailed during the time Sen. Grace Poe nursing her first son, Sen JV Ejercito was a college graduate and Sen. Sonny Angara was business reporter.

“Bloggers, netizens are interested in greater transparency, accountability. The internet demands more openness, freedom,” Cruz said.

“Anti-pork protests show power of social media. Bloggers, netizens ready to help implement the FOI,” she added.

“There are professionals willing to help govt secure websites, make apps, use Internet for transparent governance. FOI,” he further said.

“There are global standards on documents, video. We don’t need to reinvent standards.”

Too vast

Ejercito asked Cruz about “abuse of freedom” in social media, saying that there are apprehensions of some.

Cruz replied by saying that citizens involved in making websites welcome provisions that government make documents available on websites.

“I don’t predict there will be abuse because there are procedures laid out by agencies in implementing FOI,” Cruz said.

However, Poe said that nobody could really regulate the Internet because it is “too vast”.

“It’s like trying to regulate the solar system,” Poe said, later adding that she also will wait for the President’s judgement on the matter. (PNA)

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