Senate OKs FOI bill on final reading

by Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 10 2014 04:12 PM | Updated as of Mar 11 2014 06:30 AM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The Senate has approved on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 1733 or the bill on freedom of information (FOI).

The bill gained 21 affirmative votes, no negative vote, and no abstention.

It is a far cry from the situation at the House of Representatives where the bill still remains at the committee level.

Senator Grace Poe, author of the Senate Bill, said she is taking comfort in an assurance of House Speaker Sonny Belmonte that the bill would be passed in the 16th Congress.

"Ako naman ay [kampante] na merong minungkahi si Speaker Sonny (Belmonte) na sabi nya na within the 16th Congress ay papasa yung FOI sa Lower House. Para sakin isang malaking development na rin yan. Sapagkat dito nga sa Senado, wala pang isang taon ay maipapasa natin uli. Kaya sana maipas nila sa 16th Congress…isang magandang development ito," Poe said.

Poe pointed out that one key feature of the Senate version is that it does not contain a right of reply provision.

"Ang FOI natin ay hindi isang inutil na batas kaya siniguro natin na hindi malabnaw ang papasang version," she told reporters.

Sen. Miriam Defensor, meanwhile, hailed the passage of the FOI bill in the Senate, which includes the amendments she proposed.

The senator earlier asked Poe to include in the FOI bill the mandatory disclosure of the statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) and the monthly income of top government officials.

The approved bill mandates all government agencies to publish and make available for download in their respective websites audited financial statements, and budget and expenditure records of the respective government agencies; the SALN of public officials with salary grade 27 and above, pursuant to Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Public Officials and Employees; and monthly income, including allowances and sources of income, of all public officials with salary grade 27 and above.

Santiago, author of the proposed Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom, said government should maximize the use of the internet and information and communications technology (ICT) in disseminating information, and promoting transparency in governance.

Palace welcomes FOI bill passage

Malacanang welcomed the passage of the FOI bill at the senate.

“We support the Senate's enactment of the FOI bill, as it substantially incorporates the draft we submitted to its committee on publicinformation. We affirm the importance of applying the principles of freedom of information as these constitute the essential foundations of good governance," Presidential Communication Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma said Monday.

The Senate in previous congresses usually passed the FOI bill with relative ease.

However, it was always at the House of Representatives where the FOI bill died.

In the 14th Congress, the bill almost passed except that the House failed to ratify the bicameral conference committee report of the bill before it adjourned sine die.

In the 15th Congress, the bill was never discussed in the House plenary.

In the current 16th Congress, the bill remains stuck at the House Committee on Public Information, which has yet to consolidate the over 20 versions of the proposed legislation. - with a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News