Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bayan Muna files its first measure in the 15th Congress: a stronger Freedom of Information bill

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy A. Casiño today lined up with employees of various congressmen at the House of Representatives to himself re-file a stronger Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

The key features of House Bill 133 – An Act to Ensure Public Access to Official Records, Documents and Any Other Information of Public Concern – includes absolute and mandatory access to matters of official information, public concern and public interest in specified cases and the refinement of the concept and operation of covered information in whatever form or nature, whether written, oral or visual, among others.

"As far as Congress is concerned, this, not the wang-wang or counter-flow issue, is the first acid test of the Aquino government's commitment to good governance," Casiño said.

In the explanatory note of HB 133, authors Casiño and fellow Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said that “transparency and accountability is founded on the people's right to information. By guaranteeing and laying down the procedures for the exercise of that right, this bill aims to ensure transparency and accountability in government and, ultimately, good and clean governance.”

"If the Aquino administration is serious in its platform of good governance, it should exert extra effort to have this bill passed. Considering that a similar proposal was already approved by the previous House, it would not be unreasonable to expect this to be approved within two to three months," Casiño said.

“Our FOI bill, is among the proposed measures that we will work hard to pass into law in the 15th Congress. We believe that this is a stronger bill compared to the measures in the previous Congress as we have, among others, strengthened the provisions on mandatory compliance (Section 5), provided a specific declassification of information clause (section 5k) and shortened the period for government agencies to disclose information requested (Section 9),” Casiño added.

Section 5. k) states that “All classified information contained in all government agency records that (1) are more than 25 years old, and (2) have been determined to have historical value shall be automatically declassified whether or not the records have been reviewed. Subsequently, all classified information in such records shall be automatically declassified no longer than 25 years from the date of its original classification.”

“The will simplify the limitations to “Except when it is clear that the purpose of the examination is to abet or promote or commit crime or wrongdoing or to engage in sheer and idle curiosity.” By the restatement of the exceptions to levels capable of ordinary understanding, this bill reduces instances of brash rejection of requests for access to official information and in the process stresses that the people can be trusted with information which in the first place they ought to know being the source of all government authority,” Casiño said.

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