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EDITORIAL - Pass the FOI Act

Several senators have promised that the chamber would find time to tackle the proposed Freedom of Information Act even as they become preoccupied with the unprecedented impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. The promise was given after Malacañang presented its preferred version of the FOI measure, which Palace officials said had safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of freedom of information.

Various versions of the FOI bill have been tossed around in Congress for about a decade now. In the last Congress, final approval of the reconciled bill was killed at the last minute, thanks largely to then Speaker Prospero Nograles, when the measure was set to be ratified by the House of Representatives.

Groups that have pushed for the FOI measure thought the administration that was swept to power on an anti-corruption platform would show more enthusiasm for the bill, but this has not been the case. President Aquino has often voiced concern about the potential for abuse of freedom of information, and not just on matters concerning national security and international diplomacy. Pointing out that even public officials are entitled to some privacy, the President has said that certain groups could demand even data about personal matters involving government officials.

His concerns have been addressed in the version of the FOI Act endorsed by Malacañang. Some quarters have criticized the Palace version as diluted, but if this means it will finally have the full support of the official who will sign the measure into law, the Senate should now tackle the FOI Act.

Organizations including the World Bank, which in recent years has pushed for good governance to spur economic development, have pointed out the importance of a Freedom of Information Act in promoting transparency. President Aquino’s concerns about the potential for abuse of freedom of information are not entirely baseless; Filipinos can be irresponsible in the exercise of rights. But being the only son of two democracy icons, the President is surely aware of the admonition that it is better to err on the side of freedom. He has presented his preferred version of the bill, which addresses his concerns. Now Congress should do its part and pass the Freedom of Information Act.

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