FOI bill is for the public, lawmaker says

by Ria de Fiesta,

Posted at Feb 25 2014 02:04 AM | Updated as of Feb 25 2014 10:04 AM

MANILA -- Rep. George Almonte, chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, said on Monday that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is not really for media, but for ordinary people.

"We already have the freest press in Asia," Almonte told ANC Talkback during "EDSA28 Special" on Monday.

According to Almonte, 24 of the 57 bills being referred to his committee are about FOI.

"We are in the process of consolidating the 24 versions of the bills referred to us. Last February 17, we received the version of Malacanang," he said.

Almonte said some bills being filed are similar to the Palace version, which he said "gives life and meaning to the guaranteed right in the Constitution."

"The main bone of contention is about the limitations and in the last technical working group hearing, there was some sort of discussion on the matter," he said.

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), said an FOI law will empower the public.

"It empowers them to have more information that they themselves can access, because they can ask for it," she said.

De Jesus said that the FOI, as a piece of legislation, is a starting point needed by journalists.

"But what we do with the legislation, or how that legislation is crafted is a matter that should be of the highest level of discourse. As a journalist, it may make some documents easier to access, but we have lived without FOI and gotten by all kinds of means the information even during Martial Law," she said.

Meanwhile, veteran journalist Teddy Locsin Jr. shared his proposal for an FOI Bill: "If they want to keep something secret, I don’t care. What’s important is this: that no money should be paid out on any project that is not put on the internet. All the terms and details. No money should ever be paid even for a secret military operation, unless it’s down on paper and we can read it."

"Show me the money," he said.

Locsin also said, "How would you define it (executive privilege)? You know that every time a president invokes executive privilege, he invokes nothing because it does not really exist. Once you define that, every crook in the government will invoke you because it's now in black and white."

Asked how media could be strengthened, De Jesus said the public should be more engaged with the press, and should understand its role.

"To have a pubic that knows what it wants to know and asks the press to do that, to be able to get those kind of information that the journalists are trained to do. Media literacy, that will strengthen the press," she said.