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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Speaker vows to get House to approve info freedom bill

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte  Jr. has vowed to spearhead a campaign in Congress for the passage of the Freedom of Information bill.

Belmonte assured that the proposed transparency measure will get a popular support from lawmakers.

“Things are moving. I am very confident it (FOI)  will see the light of day in this Congress,” Belmonte told reporters.

Belmonte said while the discussion on the measure has been sidestepped to make way for other priority measures such as the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Charter change, among others, this does not mean that the FoI bill will not be approved at all.

Last March, the House committee on appropriations, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, unanimously approved the budget component of the FoI bill.

One of the proponents of the measure, Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting said the approval of the budget aspect of the measure is “one giant step forward in our wish to have a freedom of information law in this country.”

With the approval of the proposed measure, the substitute FOI bill is expected to be delivered back to the Committee on Public Information before it gets transmitted to the plenary for second reading.

Section 9(b) of the FOI bill provides that all government agencies are now required to publish and regularly update its own Freedom of Information Manual in full containing the necessary information regarding the contact information of key offices and personnel, the type of information it holds and the procedures on how they shall be accessed.

Public interests records concerning the particular agencies are also required to be published regularly on their websites, Gutierrez said.

“This means every website of each agency must contain documents about its annual budget, itemized monthly collections and disbursement, summary of income and expenditures, annual procurement plan and procurement list, bidding items and results of transactions. Also, all pertinent documents and records of transactions and meetings that are vested with public interest shall be made accessible to the public,” Gutierrez said.

“All agencies’ websites are further required to maintain a ‘cyber office’ wherein all the necessary information about the agency, the types and forms of services it offers and the standard procedures of access are provided and readily-available to the public online. Thus, with the aid of technology, we are advancing the people’s right to information while making the government more responsive to the needs of the people,” he added.

The proposed FOI bill, titled “An Act to Strengthen the Right of Citizens to Information Held by Government” provides that “the State recognizes the right of the people to information on matters of public concern and adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest, subject to the procedures and limitations as provided by this Act.”

It seeks to cover transactions in all government agencies, which include the executive, legislative and judicial branches, constitutional bodies, local governments and their agencies, regulatory agencies, chartered institutions, government owned and controlled corporations, government financial institutions, state universities and colleges, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, all offices in Congress, Supreme Court and all lower courts.

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