Rep. Alfred Vargas Pushes For FOI Bill Passage In 18th Congress

A lawmaker at the House of Representatives is pushing for the passage of a measure seeking to institutionalize freedom of information (FOI) to promote transparency and accountability in public service.

In a statement, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas stressed the need to legislate the FOI despite an existing executive order (EO) issued by President Rodrigo Duterte, noting that such an EO can be easily reversed.

EO No. 2 mandates all national government agencies under the Executive Branch to operationalize the people’s constitutional right to information.

“EO No. 2 does not and cannot cover other important government institutions like local governments, the legislature, independent constitutional bodies, and the judiciary. Coverage of these other government instrumentalities can only be done by an act of Congress,” he said.

Vargas noted that legislating the FOI could cover other government institutions such as local governments, the legislature, the judiciary, and independent constitutional bodies.

Vargas filed House Bill No. 5776, or “An Act Enabling the People’s Constitutional Right of Access to Information.”

The lawmaker noted that one distinct feature of his bill that cannot be found in other bills is the creation of a Freedom of Information Commission, which shall oversee the implementation and enforcement of FOI in all branches of government.

“The establishment of a commission will promote the exercise of the right of access to information. It will help in the redress in cases of violation of this right by virtue of an appeal remedy. The commission may also perform technical assistance and guidance to government agencies in the implementation of the right of access to information,” he said.

“Since it is the gatekeeper of government information, it will have a clear understanding of what information may not be released because of the exceptions under the law,” he added.

Another particular aspect of his filed bill is to make available all statistical data on budgets, appropriations, contracts and the like in machine-readable format.

“This means giving jpeg and pdf files are a no-no. This will ensure that researchers and analysts will have a quicker and easier time in processing and analyzing data especially with regard to people’s money,” he added.

Vargas hopes that the swift passage of the FOI bill can be seen in the 18th Congress, considering President Duterte’s strong political will and House Speaker Alan Cayetano’s previous tenure as chair of the Senate Committee on Public Information.

“The political will is there as far as the President is concerned. I am further hopeful because the farthest the FOI bill has ever gone in the legislative mill was when then-Senator Alan Peter Cayetano chaired the Senate Committee on Public Information. Now, he is the Speaker of the House and with at the helm, Congress can quickly act and pass this measure,” he said. (PNA)
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