POSTSCRIPT / September 26, 2013 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Jinggoy in new role: Senate whistleblower

DAMAY-DAMAY NA!: Will Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one of three senators targeted in “pork barrel” charges, bring down the entire chamber with him with his privilege speech exposing how Malacañang uses massive fund releases to buy lawmakers’ votes on crucial issues?

Our skeptical answer is: “He won’t, he can’t.” The establishment, although rotten and creaking, will remain standing if only by force of (bad) habit – unless the people, aided by social media, will also raise their voice for a drastic changeover.

Citing records, Estrada hurled accusations of selective prosecution of opposition members on pork barrel issues, initially against him and senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla, while Malacañang glossed over the sins of its allies.

In the context of the Janet Lim Napoles plunder case, will this outburst (or was it a lament?) of a key opposition member whip up a political tsunami that could drown the Aquino administration? Abangan!

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SUNSHINE: But right now, we are more excited with the sponsorship by neophyte Sen. Grace Poe of Senate Bill 1733, the Freedom of Information measure aimed at giving easier and faster access to government information.

Poe likened the approval of a FOI law to letting the sunshine in. Exposing government to the “sunshine” of public scrutiny, she said, will kill the “germs” and disinfect the “microbes” that lead to waste and red tape, abuse of authority and gross misconduct, and graft and corruption.

The Senate version consolidates 12 other proposals, including nine bills and one resolution, Malacañang inputs, suggestions from media and a petition for a people’s initiative. The counterpart FOI bill in the House is still languishing in the committees.

SB 1733 is substantially a reincarnation of the bill that died with the last Congress, but some details and refinements had been added, such as provisions for civil and criminal penalties for violations, and requirements for making government websites usable.

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USEFUL WEBSITES: Citing the need for easy-to-use websites, Poe pointed out that the Philippines is now the “Social Media Capital of the World”. She said:

“There are now 35 million Internet users in the country, and DOST is projecting that the Philippines will have 99-percent internet penetration by 2015. In today’s Information Age, ideas spread faster than a virus, news travels at the speed of light, and people can access information (quite literally) at their fingertips.

“Today’s generation wants information, and wants it instantly and wants it free. We cannot expect today’s youth to line up just to get their desired data – they want the information posted and downloadable on a government website.”

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KILLER INSERTIONS: But many people demand immediate approval of the FOI bill even without reading its content. How do they know if “killer” provisions have been slipped in?

One problem with the version peddled in the last Congress was that Malacañang inserted so many exceptions that it became too heavy for the lawmakers to carry it to approval.

Under SB 1733, there shall be a legal presumption in favor of access. No request for information shall be denied unless it clearly falls under the exceptions. As timely alert to the public, we list here the exceptions (edited to fit space).

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EXCEPTIONS: Under Section 7, access to information shall be granted unless:

• The information is authorized to be kept secret under guidelines set by an Executive Order, provided that (1) the information relates to national security or defense and its revelation may damage national security or defense; (2) or pertains to foreign relations when its revelation shall weaken the negotiating position of the government or jeopardize diplomatic relations.

• The information consists of records of minutes, advice given or opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation, invoked by the Chief Executive to be privileged by reason of the sensitivity of the subject matter or by reason of the impairment of his deliberative process that would result from disclosure.

• The information pertains to defense, law enforcement, and border control, when disclosure may:(1) compromise or interfere with any military or law enforcement operation, or (2) interfere with the prevention, detection or suppression of crime, or (3) lead to the disclosure of the identity of a confidential source, or (4) disclose procedures and guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could result in circumvention of the law, or (5) endanger the life or physical safety of an individual, or (6) deprive a person of his right to a fair trial.

• The information consists of drafts of orders, resolutions, decisions, memoranda or AUDIT REPORTS (capitalization mine—fdp) by any executive, administrative, regulatory, constitutional, judicial or quasi-judicial body.

• The information is obtained by either chamber Congress, or any committee thereof, in executive session.

• The information pertains to personal circumstances of a natural person other than the requesting party, and its disclosure would be an unwarranted invasion of his or her privacy, unless it forms part of a public record, or the person is or was an official of a government agency and the information relates to his public function.

• The information pertains to trade secrets and commercial or financial information from a natural or juridical person other than the requesting party, obtained in confidence or covered by privileged communication, and/or filed with a government agency, when its revelation would prejudice his/its interests in trade, industrial, financial or commercial competition.

• The information is classified as privileged communication in legal proceedings by law or by the Rules of Court.

• The information is of a nature that its premature disclosure would: (1) in the case of an agency that deals with currencies, interest rates, securities, commodities, or financial institutions, be likely to lead to speculations in currencies, interest rates, securities, or commodities market; or (2) in the case of other agencies, be likely to frustrate official action.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 26, 2013)

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