FOI also obliges LGUs, not just nat’l gov’t

Posted By: Chris On:

CAGAYAN DE ORO City, Dec. 9, 2010—The Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill also obliges local government units (LGUs), not just national government offices, to disclose information when requested, the chairperson of the technical working group (TWG)of the Congressional Committee on Public Information said.

“The FOI is not only limited to national government agencies but is also applicable to LGUs,” said Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III.

Section 4 (Definition of Terms) of House Bill 53, which Tañada authored defined “government agency” as including the “executive, legislative and judicial branches as well as the constitutional bodies of the Republic of the Philippines including, but not limited to, the national government and all its agencies, departments, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities, constitutional commissions and constitutionally mandated bodies, local
governments and all their agencies, regulatory agencies, chartered institutions, government-owned or –controlled corporations, including wholly-owned or controlled subsidiaries, government financial institutions, state universities and colleges, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, all offices in the Congress of the Philippines including the offices of Senators and Representatives, the Supreme Court and all lower courts established by law.”

Tañada said that LGUs play a very important role in curbing, if not, eliminating graft and corruption in government, which is why it is very important to include them in the scope of any freedom of information law.

He said that the FOI is “a weapon in [the Aquino administration’s] anti-corruption thrust.”

According to the grandson of nationalist, former Senator Lorenzo M. Tañada, the provisions of the Constitution, as enshrined in Section 7 of the Bill of Rights, the people’s right to be informed of matters of public concern is far from complete.

“Its effective implementation has for the past two decades suffered from the lack of the necessary substantive and procedural details that only legislature can provide,” he explained.

Thus, the FOI bill, which, he said, responds to these problems: (1) absence of a uniform, simple and speedy access procedure; (2) while in legal theory there is no discretion in giving access to information, it remains discretionary in practice; (3) there is still untested, if not insufficient, basis for sanctions in cases of violation of the right to information; (4) the remedy to compel disclosure, primarily judicial, is inaccessible to the general public; (5) government’s record-keeping system is in a very poor state; (6)
there is a very low level of bureaucratic commitment to openness; and (7) the cost of access to certain information is excessive.

Aside from giving solution to these problems, the FOI also provides the following: (1) an expansive scope in terms of government agencies as well as information covered; (2) a clear, uniform and speedy procedure for access to information; (3) a proscription against excessive costs of access to information; (4) a system of accessible and speedy remedies that a citizen who has been denied access to information may resort to; (5) a mandate to promote a culture of openness within government; and (6) clear administrative, criminal
and civil liability for violation of the right to information.

The right to information is “indispensable to the exercise of the right of the people and their organization to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision-making,” he said, adding: “This bill is the very enabling law that the Constitution so mandated legislature to provide more than 20 years ago.”

“I see no reason for any delay in the passage of this measure. It is therefore enjoin all members of the 15th Congress to pass this expeditiously knowing fully well the right that we are giving our people. Let this be our very first legacy under the new dispensation,” Tañada said. (Bong D. Fabe)

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