Right to Know, Right Now: A Forum on the Freedom of Information Bill transpired last January 15, 2014 at F213 with guest speakers Atty. Romeo Cabarde, Jr. and Ramon Beleno III.
The first discussion was done by Beleno who basically gave the audience an overview of what Freedom of Information is all about.
He stated its importance with regards to democracy, transparency and accountability of the government, dismantling the culture of secrecy, exposing wrongdoings and anti-corruption. The existence of the “right of information” in the 1987 constitution was also mentioned.
“Despite the constitutional recognition and laws in relation to the said bill, there is still a need to pursue it to facilitate the right to know, to provide uniform, simple and speedy procedure for access to information and to punish those who violate the rights,” Beleno explained.
He also cited the advantages and disadvantages of the passage of the FOI bill. The benefits, according to Beleno, are as follows: it can prevent creation of secret laws and regulations; it can be a more convenient tool than direct monitoring that the congress can use; it can be used to fight corruption; it can make government bodies accountable and it can promote social and human rights.
“Along with the advantages,” Beleno said, “are its disadvantages, like negotiations and agreements entered into by the government may be put into risk. Some released information may put our international relationship in danger. Release of military strategies and information may result to national security threats.”
“Moreover, politicians will spend more time trying to defend themselves rather than doing their jobs. It can also cause irresponsible journalism, information overload and chaos,” Beleno added.
Beleno explained that the reason why the FOI bill has been pending for 21 years is that politicians are worried that it might be used against them, thus their proposal of the Right of Reply Bill. Also, it is a threat to national security and that the nation has a sensitive president.
Atty. Cabarde explained the details and technicalities of the bill. “It seeks to address the absence of uniform, simple and speedy access procedure, discretion in giving access to information, untested basis for sanctions in cases and rights and poor government record-keeping,” he stated.
He also clarified the important points relating to the involved persons, the scope and limitations and the procedure of access if ever the bill is passed. According to Mr. Cabarde, the public can ask for information from all government agencies and constitutional bodies (national and local). It can scrutinize and can make a copy of the acquired information.
“It also has limitations parallel to the information that is classified or confidential. These include the information authorized to be kept secret under guidelines established by executive order, information on internal and external defense and law enforcement, personal information of a natural person, trade, industrial, financial or commercial secrets and a lot more. However, these exceptions are also subject to exceptions,” Cabarde explained.
The procedures of access, namely the request, receipt, waiting time, notification, grant or payment and the technicalities behind each one were also discussed.
The forum was organized by Buklod Atenista.