P-NOY FINALLY GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL


MANILA,
JANUARY 5
, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Norman Bordadora - President Benigno Aquino has approved Malacañang’s version of the Freedom of Information Bill, a Palace official said Wednesday.

Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office said Aquino gave the instruction to “push ahead” in Congress with the FOI bill after the President ordered the removal of the provision on the creation of an information commission.

The information commission, Quezon said, would have been the arbiter on disagreements on whether a piece of information could be disclosed or withheld on the basis of public interest.

Quezon said the President only saw the commission as yet another layer of bureaucracy that could get in the way of achieving transparency.

EARLIER REPORT IN OCTOBER 2011

President Aquino flip-flops on Freedom of Info bill By Norman Bordadora Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:53 am | Saturday, October 1st, 2011

President Benigno Aquino III indicated he was not ready to include the freedom of information (FOI) bill on his list of priority measures, saying too much transparency may prove to be a bane rather than a benefit.

Answering a question on when his administration would include the freedom of information bill in its list of priority measures, Mr. Aquino told Southeast Asian business leaders on Thursday that it would be when all sectors concerned have agreed on the limitations and coverage of such a law mandating transparency in the bureaucracy.

“You know, having a freedom of information act sounds so good and noble but at the same time—I think you’ll notice that here in this country—there’s a tendency of getting information and not really utilizing it for the proper purposes,” President Aquino said during a question and answer exchange with the forum participants.

No good

President Aquino, who had promised to support the bill when he campaigned for president in the 2010 elections, also took a swipe at the country’s newspapers that present opinion as fact—something that he said would not do the country any good.

“There are so many people who will always look at the bottle half-empty, or sometimes the half-empty bottle even becomes the quarter, quarter-full bottle,” he added.

Asked when his administration would certify the FOI bill as a priority given that one of the hallmarks of the government’s policies is transparency, President Aquino said: “Once everybody is able to sign off on the limitations and coverage of the freedom of information act.”

One such issue, President Aquino said, is that some advocates of the transparency measure want Cabinet meetings recorded and immediately made available for the public to watch or listen to.

Inhibiting

“Having a freedom of information bill that dictates something like that will inhibit the discussions that will probably not allow us to share the information amongst ourselves,” President Aquino said, indicating that the discussions could lead to something other than the best decision.

“And I don’t think you would want that,” he added.

President Aquino also made an example of whether the government should make public the return of individuals that are suspected of being afflicted with the severe acute respiratory syndrome.

“I don’t think causing panic the populace would redound to their benefit,” President Aquino said.

“Let us have our people completely informed as mandated by the constitution but at the same time make sure that the idea of a little knowledge becomes a lot of danger does not happen in our country,” President Aquino said.

“That is the debate as to where to draw the line. And we have a working group talking to all the stakeholders trying to come up with that law that everybody can live with and comply with,” he added.

Then President Aquino made an issue out of how, according to him, the print media reports opinion as fact.

“And if I may just add, just one last point, all you have to do is read our newspapers everyday. And I think you will agree, that there is, how should I say… nobody can state a fact exactly the same in all of these newspapers,” President Aquino said.

NUJP saddened

“An opinion commenting on the fact is okay but an opinion masquerading as a fact does not do anyone any good,” he added.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) immediately reacted to Mr. Aquino’s remarks, saying they were saddened by them.

“We are saddened by the statement of the President, who, during his campaign for presidency, promised to support the passage of the freedom of information law, vowing to promote transparency in the government and fight corruption, NUJP secretary-general Rowena Paraan said in a statement.

“Hearing the president talk about transparency sounded so good and noble but at the same time, you will notice that in this country, there is a tendency of politicians like Aquino making promises when still wooing the people’s votes but once in power, they forget their promises and abuse the trust voters have given them,” Paraan said.

FROM WIKIPEDIA (FOI)

THE PHILIPPINES IS ONE OF THE COUNTRIES WHERE FOI LEGISLATION IS STILL PENDING

Philippines:  Article III, Section 7 of the country's Bill of Rights recognizes the people's right to information on matters of public concern. Its Supreme Court has upheld this right in many of its decisions.

However, there is no legislation that sets the procedures for access and disclosure of information and provides penalties for officials who fail to release the requested information, without justifiable reasons.

In 2008, the Lower House of the Philippine Congress passed House Bill No. 3732 (Freedom of Information Act) that addresses these gaps.

A counterpart bill is still pending in the Philippine Senate. Leading the campaign for the bill's passage is the Access to Information Network, co-convened by Action For Economic Reforms and Transparency and Accountability Network.

WHAT IS FOI

Freedom of information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state.

They establish a "right-to-know" legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions.

Also variously referred to as open records or (especially in the United States) sunshine laws, governments are also typically bound by a duty to publish and promote openness.

In many countries there are constitutional guarantees for the right of access to information, but usually these are unused if specific support legislation does not exist.

Over 85 countries around the world have implemented some form of such legislation. Sweden's Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 is the oldest in the world.

Most freedom of information laws exclude the private sector from their jurisdiction.

Information held by the private sector cannot be accessed as a legal right. This limitation entails serious implications because the private sector is performing many functions which were previously the domain of the public sector.

As a result, information that was previously public is now within the private sector, and the private contractors cannot be forced to disclose information.

Other countries are working towards introducing such laws, and many regions of countries with national legislation have local laws.

For example, all states of the United States have laws governing access to public documents of state and local taxing entities, in addition to that country's Freedom of Information Act which governs records management of documents in the possession of the federal government.

A related concept is open meetings legislation, which allows access to government meetings, not just to the records of them. In many countries, privacy or data protection laws may be part of the freedom of information legislation; the concepts are often closely tied together in political discourse.

A basic principle behind most freedom of information legislation is that the burden of proof falls on the body asked for information, not the person asking for it.

The person making the request does not usually have to give an explanation for their actions, but if the information is not disclosed a valid reason has to be given.

LEGISLATION BY COUNTRIES

FOR EXAMPLE:

Australia

In Australia, the Freedom of Information Act 1982 was passed at the federal level in 1982, applying to all "ministers, departments and public authorities" of the Commonwealth.

Canada

Main article: Freedom of information in Canada

In Canada, the Access to Information Act allows citizens to demand records from federal bodies. The act came into force in 1983, under the Pierre Trudeau government, permitting Canadians to retrieve information from government files, establishing what information could be accessed, mandating timelines for response.[16] This is enforced by the Information Commissioner of Canada.

There is also a complementary Privacy Act that was introduced in 1983. The purpose of the Privacy Act is to extend the present laws of Canada that protect the privacy of individuals with respect to personal information about themselves held by a federal government institution and that provide individuals with a right of access to that information. It is a Crown copyright. Complaints for possible violations of the Act may be reported to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Canadian access to information laws distinguish between access to records generally and access to records that contain personal information about the person making the request. Subject to exceptions, individuals have a right of access to records that contain their own personal information under the Privacy Act but the general public does not have a right of access to records that contain personal information about others under the Access to Information Act.

Each province and territory in Canada has its own access to information legislation. in many cases, this is also the provincial public sector privacy legislation. For example: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Alberta) Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Manitoba) Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Nova Scotia) Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Ontario) Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Saskatchewan) Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information (Quebec)

From 1989 to 2008, requests made to the federal government were catalogued in the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System.

A 393 page report released in September 2008, sponsored by several Canadian newspaper groups, compares Canada’s Access to Information Act to the FOI laws of the provinces and of 68 other nations:Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context.

In 2009, The Walrus (magazine) published a detailed history of FOI in Canada.

People's Republic of China

In April 2007, the State Council of the People's Republic of China promulgated the "Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Open Government Information" (中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例), which came into effect on May 1, 2008.

European Union

Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents grants a right of access to documents of the three institutions to any Union citizen and to any natural or legal person residing, or having its registered office, in a Member State.

"Document" is defined broadly and it is assumed that all documents, even if classified, may be subject to right of access unless it falls under one of the exceptions. If access is refused, the applicant is allowed a confirmatory request. A complaint against a refusal can be made with the European Ombudsman and/or an appeal can be brought before the European General Court.

In addition, Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 17 November 2003 on the re-use of public sector information sets out the rules and practices for accessing public sector information resources for further exploitation.

Since 2008, the European Commission operates the Register of Interest representatives, a voluntary register of lobbyists at the European union.

France

Main article: Freedom of information in France

In France, the accountability of public servants is a constitutional right, according to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

The implementing legislation is the Loi n°78-753 du 17 juillet 1978 portant diverses mesures d'amélioration des relations entre l'administration et le public et diverses dispositions d'ordre administratif, social et fiscal (Act No. 78-753 of 17 July 1978.

On various measures for improved relations between the Civil Service and the public and on various arrangements of administrative, social and fiscal nature).

It sets as a general rule that citizens can demand a copy of any administrative document (in paper, digitized or other form), and establishes the Commission d’Accès aux Documents Administratifs, an independent administrative authority, to oversee the process.

Germany

In Germany, the federal government passed a freedom of information law on September 5, 2005. The law grants each person an unconditional right to access official federal information. No legal, commercial, or any other kind of justification is necessary.

Nine of the sixteen Bundesländer — Berlin, Brandenburg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saarland and Thüringen — have approved individual "Informationsfreiheitsgesetze" (Freedom of Information laws).

Republic of China

The "The Freedom of Government Information Law" (政府資訊公開法), enacted by the Legislative Yuan of the ROC government in Taiwan, has been in force since 28 December 2005.

United Kingdom

Main article: Freedom of information in the United Kingdom

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (2000 c. 36) is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom on a national level, with the exception of Scottish bodies, which are covered by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (2002 asp. 13).

Environmental information is covered by further legislation Environmental Information Regulations 2004. Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister who introduced the Freedom of Information Act, later expressed regret over the Act, claiming that the Act impeded the ability of officials to deliberate "with a reasonable level of confidentiality".

United States

Main article: Freedom of information in the United States

In the United States the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966 and went into effect the following year.

Ralph Nader has been credited with the impetus for creating this act, among others. The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments were signed by President Bill Clinton on October 2, 1996.

The Act applies only to federal agencies. However, all of the states, as well as the District of Columbia and some territories, have enacted similar statutes to require disclosures by agencies of the state and of local governments, though some are significantly broader than others.

Some state and local government agencies attempt to get around state open records laws by claiming copyright for their works and then demanding high fees to license the public information. :441–42 The ruling in Santa Clara v. CFAC will likely curtail the abuse of copyright to avoid public disclosure in California, but agencies in other states like Texas and New York continue to hide behind copyright.

Some states expand government transparency through open meeting laws, which require government meetings to be announced in advance and held publicly.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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