Roxas: Free Info Act to empower people to verify SONA claims

Senator Mar Roxas yesterday said Congress should immediately work for the passage of the proposed Free Information Act, as this would empower the people to verify the claims and check on the “hits and misses” of the President’s past and present State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs).

This, as he urged the President to deliver a “believable and bankable” SONA this Monday that is attuned to the realities being faced by Filipinos today.
A recent survey shows most of our people consider the SONAs since 2005 as far from the truth, or irrelevant to their lives. This is her chance to assure our people that a concrete short-term and long-term plan is in place to promote food sufficiency and job security amid soaring oil and food prices,” he said.
Roxas said the people’s constitutional right to information has 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,” he said, adding that the bill’s passage is a good deterrent to future SONA fairy tales.
The Liberal Party President had proposed Senate Bill No. 109, the proposed Free Information Act, at the start of the 14th Congress. The bill is still pending with the Senate Committees on Public Information and Mass Media, and on Civil Service and Government Reorganization. On the other hand, the House of Representatives’ counterpart bill has already been approved on 3rd reading. One of its main proponents is Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, a fellow Liberal.

It seeks to require government offices to answer all queries for information within two days, 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.

To compel disclosure of information in case a government body refuses on whatever grounds, the bill mandates the Office of the Ombudsman to hear any complaints of not being properly assisted by the pertinent government body.

The bill also mandates all government offices to publicize and regularly update—via print and electronic means—information on the mandate, powers, functions, organizational structure, processes, and other information on governance. Also, any information about the existence of a risk of significant harm to the health and safety of the public or that clearly affects public interest must be disclosed immediately.



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Kevin Ray N. Chua

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