FOI restrictions a dangerous move – press freedom advocates

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Several groups expressed their concern over the exceptions to President Duterte's Executive Order on Freedom of Information.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Press freedom advocates decry the proposed exceptions to President Duterte's Executive Order on Freedom of Information.

Vergel Santos, Chairman of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) calls the compilation of exceptions an "intimidation tactic which would curtail Press Freedom and what the public, itself, can know. A dangerous move, the likes of which he has not seen in his 40 years as a journalist, save for the Martial Law period."

The draft version of the Manual on Freedom of Information released by the Presidential Communications Office on Sunday lists 166 exceptions.

Read: Palace bares 166 restrictions in draft freedom of information manual

Aside from documents pertaining to National Security, the compiled list now proposes to restrict access to certain information such as:

Government officials' Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN)

Information on investigations or proceedings conducted by public authorities

Documents submitted through the Government Electronic Procurement System (G-EPS)

Information acquired by Comelec officials in the procurement process.

It also lists restrictions on information outside the Executive branch's authority such as:

Court records, including pleadings and other documents filed by litigants.

Those obtained by either House of Congress in executive session, as well as detailed reports on the disbursement of Congressional funds.

This bothers Ryan Rosauro, Chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, as the broad scope of the proposed exceptions lends itself to "interpretation of whoever would be tasked with the power and authority to release the information."

They call for an intense scrutiny of the exceptions as these would defeat the spirit of transparency - the very heart of the movement towards Freedom of Information.

But Atty. Eirene Aguila of the Right to Know Right Now! Coalition says the public should not be too worried about some of the proposed exceptions drafted by the DOJ and Office of the Solicitor General, as these, even if approved by the President, cannot override existing laws which allow public access to certain information.

Aguila says the Duterte administration should be commended instead for releasing the proposed FOI guidelines within the specified timeframe as this shows their commitment to transparency.

She adds, this should highlight the pressing need for a Freedom on Information Law and calls on Congress to heed the Executive's example.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, meanwhile, did not answer our query on why the draft contained limits on information reserved for the discretion of the Judiciary and Congress but he calls on the public to reserve judgement until the final draft is released before the 3rd week of November.