Pro-FOI groups laud Duterte's plan to issue EO on pending bill

MANILA, Philippines – Supporters of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill welcomed president-elect Rodrigo Duterte's willingness to issue an Executive Order (EO) to finally pass the bill into law. 

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a network of pro-FOI bill organizations and civil society leaders, said on Monday, May 23, that a "carefully crafted" EO "can go a long way" in addressing administrative hurdles to public access to information in the executive branch.

"An EO on FOI can clarify the interpretation of the 15-day response to request provision of Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) to mean actual release of requested information," said the coalition in a statement. 

"It can also promulgate as executive department rules many of the provisions of the FOI bill that are administrative in nature, such as those on procedure for access, record keeping, automatic disclosure of important documents, capacity building, and other administrative measures to promote easy and uniform access to information from the executive," the coalition added.  

On May 10, Duterte said one of his priorities on his first day as president would be to issue an EO on the FOI bill.

"Kung ayaw ng Congress I will start progressively. Para walang satsat, walang yakyak, day one, basta pataas na, huwag na pabalik kasi magulo 'yan (If Congress refuses to pass such a law, I will start on it progressively. Let's cut to the chase. From day one, although this will not be retroactive since ordering so will create a very chaotic situation.) FOI, I will impose it on my department, executive department," said Duterte. 

The FOI bill has long been languishing in Congress despite outgoing President Benigno Aquino III's promise to pass it as part of his anti-corruption program. (READ: 16th Congress adjourns: Which bills endorsed by Aquino did it pass?)

Aquino named FOI as one of his legislative priorities for 2015. He also endorsed it a day after his last State of the Nation Address in July last year. 

The Senate had already passed its version of the FOI bill on 3rd and final reading on March 10, 2014, but it continues to wait for the House version for concurrence up to this day.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr repeatedly said the FOI bill is among the lower chamber's priority measures. A consolidated version of at least 20 right to information bills, however, has been pending before the Committee on Rules since May 2015. 

According to the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a "progressive" FOI EO will serve as a "strong confidence-building measure" for the Duterte administration.

"[This will happen] especially if coupled with credible support for legislation by Congress of an FOI law that applies equally to all branches of government and to independent constitutional bodies, lays down narrow exceptions, and defines penal provisions, that cannot be covered by an Executive Order," said the coalition.

They also emphasized that an effective FOI policy would be formed through a proper consultation with key stakeholders, which they hope Duterte's administration will initiate soon. 

"The coalition is ready to actively and constructively participate in such a consultation, through our designated representatives," they said. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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