Santiago sees constitutional issues on proposed FOI bill

January 27, 2014 11:17 pm 

By Jelly F. Musico

MANILA, Jan. 27 (PNA) – Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Monday said Congress should prepare for constitutional issues that critics might use to question the Freedom of Information Bill before the Supreme Court.

Santiago defied chronic fatigue syndrome that has been keeping her out of the Senate since last year to warn fellow lawmakers about two provisions in the Bill of Rights — the Privacy of Communications, and the Right to Information which might clash with each other.

Under the Bill of Rights, on the one hand, the provision of communications and correspondence shall be inviolable. On the other hand, the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.

“We have to be able to finish the antagonism between these two provisions lest critics question the constitutionality of the FOI law in the Supreme Court,” Santiago said during resumption of interpellation of the bill.

Santiago, however, clarified that she is a “strong supporter, perhaps to the furthest extreme” of the FOI bill authored by neophyte Sen. Grace Poe.

Santiago said that the FOI bill should be reconciled with the existing Data Privacy Act and other laws.

In her interpellation, Santiago stressed that the law must draw a distinction between on the one hand, “the mandatory duty to disclose; and on the other hand, the duty to permit access to information.

The senator said that in other countries, a FOI act covers information only when the information is under control of the state.

She also pointed out that the President of the Philippines has the “presidential communication privilege,” while other executive officials are entitled to the “deliberative process privilege.”

“The Senate should be careful because the presidential communications privilege is a form of executive privilege and is rooted in the separation of powers,” Santiago said, citing the case of U.S. v. Nixon, in the United States.

She also repeatedly cited Philippine cases, including the 2012 Chavez v. Public Estates Authority, and the 2008 case of Neri v. Senate.

In her interpellation, Santiago said that the FOI Bill should consider the “deliberative process privilege” to prevent premature disclosure of decisions, and to preserve the quality of decision-making.

Santiago, referring to the exceptions listed in the bill, said that it should include the exceptions consisting of those provided by the National Internal Revenue Code, AIDS Prevention and Control Act, and Inter-Country Adoption Act, in addition to information provided by foreign governments.

The senator added that a previous SC ruling emphasized the provision in the Philippine Mining Act requiring the DENR “to maintain the confidentiality of confidential information supplied by contractors who are parties to mineral agreements.”

Santiago also turned to the aim of the FOI Bill to promote “best practices of appropriate information technology.”

She stressed that when information is disclosed to the public, it should be accurate, decipherable, and user-friendly.”

She singled out that some formats hinder analysis and understanding by the public.

Santiago said that one example is budget spread sheets.

Poe expressed optimism that the FOI bill will be passed in the Senate before end of March. (PNA)

CTB/JFM

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