By Manila Bulletin, October 3, 2021; Manila Bulletin

The proposed Freedom of Information bill has started to move forward in the House of Representatives.

A technical working group (TWG) created to make recommendations on the proposed measure met on Sept. 28 to approve the consolidated version of the bill.

Headed by Kabayan Partylist Rep. Ron Salo, the TWG approved the bill that consolidated 19 pending legislative proposals. The consolidated version will be submitted to the Committee on Public Information, for final deliberation and approval.

Although still unnumbered, the consolidated FOI bill will be known as “An Act Enabling the People’s Constitutional Right of Access to Information”.

Authors of the bill said the FOI is one of the most important rights of the people and a bill that recognizes every Filipinos’ right to gain information on matters of public concern.

Among the policies of the bill is to recognize 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 provided.

It also seeks to promote transparency, the meaningful and increased participation of the people in government decision-making and public accountability, and protect the fundamental human right of privacy, communication while ensuring the free flow of information to promote innovation and growth. Salo headed the said technical working group which includes Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Kris Ablan and Commission of Public Information (CPI) Commission Secretary Romualdo Sta. Clara, among others.

The FOI Lower House bill counterparts in the Senate include Senate Bills No. 1673, 795, 606, 511, 324 and 265.

It can also be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 02, also known as the FOI Program, on July 23, 2016.

The said EO initiated the first FOI Program in the country which covers all government offices under the Executive Branch.

It requires all executive departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices to disclose public records, contracts, transactions, and any information requested by a member of the public, except for matters affecting national security and other information that falls under the inventory of exceptions.

The order was signed two days before Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) and just a few weeks after he assumed the presidency.

The FOI executive order gives full public disclosure of all government records involving public interest aside from upholding the constitutional right of people to information on matters of public concern. (Melvin Sarangay)