PRESIDENT Duterte stole Congress’ thunder by announcing he was issuing an executive order on the Freedom of Information (FOI) in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2016.
These were the President’s exact words: “Eh ang maganda nito, I have signed the Executive Order sa aming FOI. Naunahan ko kayo. Iyong inyo…Nandoon na ang sa akin. Oo, tapos na ako. Ilabas ko na – it will be out today. Alam mo sabi ko, unahan na natin itong Congress, puro mayayabang ang mga nandiyan. We grab the – each other…They say, ‘stealing one’s thunder,’ ika nga. Unahan na natin.”
Yes, the President did issue an FOI executive order.
Fast forward to 2019, the President was totally silent about a legislated FOI in his fourth SONA.
What’s keeping legislators from getting their act together for an FOI law?
There is so much clamor for truth, transparency and accountability. Congress should work for the passage of an FOI law as this would empower the people to verify the claims and check on the “hits and misses” of the government.
During the Arroyo administration, a survey showed that most of our people considered SONAs as far from the truth, or irrelevant to their lives. One of the reasons could be because the people’s constitutional right to information had been stonewalled by the executive branch’s use of executive privilege.
We need to empower the people to check the SONAs against reality and to audit promises made against actual deliveries, by giving them free access to information regarding government affairs except those related to national security and foreign policy.
An effective FOI law should require government offices to answer all queries for information quickly, under pain of stiff penalties, unless sufficient justification is given. An office may only refuse to provide information when this would jeopardize the privacy of individuals, national security, public order, foreign diplomatic and economic relations, and trade secrets of private entities.
Among others, journalists are the first to benefit from the proposed FOI law. But the public in general will benefit the most. It will expose government transactions to the sunshine of public scrutiny. It will make government more transparent.