By Mario Casayuran
In a bid to stop the annual hemorrhage of some P700 billion from the annual budget due to corruption, Senator Francis N. Pangillinan has asked Congress to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.
The FOI bill of Senator Grace Poe was passed by the Senate in the 17th Congress but the House of Representatives failed to pass a similar bill.
One of the reasons why people have been demonstrating the world over was the allegations of corruption by their government officials, according to Pangilinan.
Pangilinan said enactment of the bill into law would deliver on lawmakers’ promise to promote good governance and transparency and curb corruption.
Pangilinan stressed that FOI I will be an effective anti-corruption tool.
‘’When the people are aware about what’s going on in their government, officials will think twice about committing crime because they know they are being watched,” Pangilinan said.
He authored Senate Bill 265, or the proposed People’s Freedom of Information Act.
According to Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos, the Philippines is losing around P700 billion, or around 20 percent of the country’s total budget appropriation yearly due to corruption.
‘’Corruption happens in the dark. FOI is the sunshine that will kill it,” Pangilinan said.
‘’Under the bill, every Filipino citizen has a right to and shall, on request, be given access to any information of public concern under the control of a government agency regardless of the physical form or format in which they are contained, subject only to exceptions,’’ he explained.
Unlike the existing Executive Order, which covers only the executive, the proposed FOI law will cover all government agencies in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, as well as constitutional bodies.
The bill states the mandatory disclosure of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) of all public officials.
All agencies are mandated to upload on their websites updated documents, including their annual budget; itemized monthly collections and disbursements; summary of incomes and expenditures; utilization of Internal Revenue Allotment; annual procurement plan and list; items to bid; bid results; procurement contracts, among other relevant documents
There are, however, exceptions to disclosure, including information that directly relates to national security or defense and its revelation may cause damage to the national security or internal and external defense of the state.
The concerned agency is required to respond to any party requesting for a particular information.
A penalty of not less than one month but not more than six months and a fine ranging from P10,000 to P100,000 shall be imposed upon any public official who falsely denies or conceals information.
A higher penalty ranging from P500,000 to P1 million is set against a public official or employee who willfully destroys information being requested.