MANILA – The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), an election watchdog, believes that the best way to ensure the passage of a Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in Congress is to encourage lawmakers to be “champions” of improving the accessibility of government data for all citizens.

“[Ang] dapat din [na] gawin o maging efforts for this bill to be passed into law ay makahanap po talaga tayo ng champion sa Kongreso (The effort we can do for this bill to be passed into law is to really find a ‘champion’ in Congress),” LENTE Project Officer Jenica Czarina Mendez said in a recent episode of “FOI Talks”, an online show co-produced by the FOI Philippines in partnership with the Philippine Information Agency.

Mendez said these champions in Congress would not only push for the passage of an FOI measure but also educate Filipinos on the importance of transparency and full public disclosure of information.

Yung mga champions natin sa Kongreso, sila yung mainly makakasama natin para mapatakbo itong bill na ‘to sa Congress (These champions in the Congress, they will be our main allies for this bill to be tackled in Congress). I think with LENTE and FOI-PMO, we can engage together para dito po sa lobbying na ‘to and at the same time for public education din talaga (for lobbying this measure and promote public education),” she said.

“Ang push din po talaga natin is for other people ay malaman kung ano yung FOI bill na ‘to. Kahit na parang three decades na siya nakabinbin sa Congress, kung ang FOI ay mas mame-mainstream, aside from them being aware of what FOI bill is, malalaman din nila yung proseso kung paano ito totally dapat maipasa into law (We want other people to know what this FOI bill is. Even if it’s been stuck in the Congress for three decades. If the FOI can become mainstream, aside from just knowing what the FOI bill, people will know why it should be passed into a law),” she added.

She acknowledged the existence of Executive Order (EO) 2, series of 2016, which gives the public access to official documents and transactions in all government offices under the executive branch.

She, however, said the EO does not cover the legislature, judiciary, and local government units (LGUs) although it encourages them to observe the order.

Nalilimitahan lang talaga tayo dun sa puwede natin na makuha na impormasyon kung ito’y mananatili na Executive Order lang at hindi siya buong law na totally mae-exercise hindi lang ng mga civil society organizations but also yung general public,” she said.

EO 2, series of 2016, or the FOI Program was signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte on July 23, 2016, days after he assumed office.

The order enables Filipino citizens to ask for any information about government transactions and operations by presenting proof of identity to the concerned state agency or lodging queries online through eFOI website.

The concerned agency must respond to requests within 15 days. It may also ask for an extension to process the request which shall not be longer than 20 working days.

Different versions of the FOI bill were filed during the 12th Congress, but they have been bypassed. (PNA)