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Palace asks Congress to expedite FOI bill passage

Palace asks Congress to expedite FOI bill passage
By Jelly F. Musico

MANILA (Philippines News Agency) – Malacanang urged Congress on Friday to expedite the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill following the official launching of the Executive department’s version of FOI.

”May this (launching) also fast track Congress in launching its version of FOI for the benefit of the people,” Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in his speech during the ceremonial presentation of the People’s FOI manuals at the Heroes’ Hall of Malacanang.

For his part, Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Martin Andanar thanked Sen. Grace Poe and Rep. Antonio Tinio for working hard to come out with an effective version of FOI that will cover all the branches of government.

”We look forward to the days the FOI will be an Act and not only an EO. Signing an Executive Order is one thing, implementing it so that it can give tools to the citizen’s genuine access to information about the government is another,” Andanar said.

Poe, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, said she expects the passage of the FOI in the Senate this year.

Under the help of Poe, the Senate unanimously approved the FOI bill but the House of Representatives failed to pass its own version in the last 16th Congress.

Last July 23, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 2, Series of 2016, operationalizing in the Executive branch the people’s constitutional right to information and the state policies to full public disclosure and transparency in the public service.

After only 120 days of preparation, the PCO officially launched on Friday the FOI manuals and the electronic-FOI or e-FOI that would provide the public free access to all information except for matters affecting national security in the government.

”Today, we celebrate a story of political will, courage and hard work. To put simply, the President wanted a government that is transparent, that have nothing to hide from its citizens. He wanted those who hid behind bureaucracy and secrecy to be held accountable. The FOI is key to a balance power between the government and its citizens,” Andanar said.

He congratulated all the government departments and agencies that have cooperated for the preparations of their respective FOI manuals.

”The average time to implement FOI is one year for some developed countries. Our agency (PCO) and agencies were asked to prepare FOI manual in 120 days,” he said.

In implementing the FOI, Andanar said the Philippines learned from the efforts of countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico which, he said, has one of the best examples of well-functioning FOI.

”In Mexico, information is just released to the person who requested it, it is released to everyone, so the information becomes available and saves time and efforts of the citizens and the agencies,” Andanar said.

Andanar said President Duterte signed EO No. 2 as a way to solve problem and “not a way to lure support or a window dressing to the growing corruption problem in the country.”

”FOI has been established because government seeks real change. This has been a triumphant day not only for the Duterte administration but for the nation,” he added.

A total of 33 government departments and agencies have presented their respective FOI manuals to Medialdea and Andanar.

Andanar is hoping that by early next year, all the government offices will be accessed by the public.

The unveiling of the FOI manuals was attended by the officials of Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). (PNA)

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