Freedom Of Information
Quote:Freedom of information
By Florangel Rosario Braid
IF we can somehow elevate the current political campaign to a more serious debate on survival issues, I recommend that access to information the right to know, the right of reply, transparency and disclosure on matters of public concern be given the attention it deserves. If not, it can be integrated in the popular formats of song, dance and media plugs. But I certainly hope that the next Congress would pull the various versions of the bill from the archives and place it on its Urgent Agenda. By now, I think many of us realize that access to information is a sine qua non of human survival.
The last forum convened by the Economic Policy Research and Advocacy Group (EPRA) focused on the need to push for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act "an economic necessity." This bill has been filed in both the Houses during the 12th and 13th Congress, and up to this time, it has not moved any further beyond the substitution of past House Bills No. 784, 2123, 2993, 3041 and 3580 with the Freedom of Access to Information Act of 2006. The latter declares a policy recognition of the right of people to information on matters of public concern and to allow full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest. Information refers to any knowledge, records, documents, papers, reports, contracts, data, research materials, tapes, microfilm, videotapes and the like, statements of policy and interpretations thereof, final opinions, and orders made in the adjudication of cases, administrative manuals and instructions that can be communicated regardless of its physical form or the format in which it is contained; that it is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the concerned government agency.
The government agency is mandated to make available for public scrutiny, copying, or reproduction such information, except as otherwise provided in the exemptions. The Act further defines classified information (particularly involving national security and personal privacy); declassification of information; procedures for access; notice of denial; remedies to compel disclosure, and punishable acts and penalties. It also mandates the Philippine Information Agency to prepare guidelines in consultation with concerned agencies where to obtain information; the type of information it holds; responsible persons; procedures for request of information and administrative appeal of denial for access; schedule of fees, etc.
We are one of the few countries which has a progressive Constitutional guarantee in terms of right and access to information. But as Nepomuceno Malaluan, co-convenor of Access to Information Network or ATIN states, a constitutional guarantee can coexist with a regime of government secrecy and limited access to information, citing this administrations deliberate policy of secrecy. This was shown in its "flawed legal maneuvers to achieve its selfish ends."
Although the Supreme Court has consistently upheld such right and compelled disclosure of withheld information in cases brought before it, still the denial of access to information on matters of public concern remains widespread. This, despite the Constitutional guarantee, according to ATIN which calls on the need to address such problems as: (1) the absence of a uniform, simple and speedy access procedure; through legislation; (2) that although there is no discretion in giving access to information, in practice it remains discretionary; (3) there is still untested, if not insufficient, basis for sanctions in cases of violation of the right to information; (4) there remains ambiguity in the scope of the guarantee. The Supreme Court itself notes that "there are no specific laws prescribing the exact limitations within which the right may be exercised; (5) the remedy to compel disclosure, primarily judicial, remains inaccessible to the general public; (6) in the context of increasing private sector participation, an increasing amount of information that is clearly of public concern is now held and controlled by the private sector, which is outside the scope of the Constitutional guarantee.
EPRA attributes the constraints to infrastructure development in the country to the lack of transparency and adequate disclosure about critical economic information which includes terms and conditions under which infrastructure service providers operate; pricing quality standards, service obligations, license fees, and public support through guarantees and subsidies in private sector participation projects or PSP; and the rights and obligations of consumers of infrastructure service, thus allowing them to play more informed roles in evaluating the performance of service providers and in contributing to regulatory processes. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
~ Veritas Vos Liberabit ~