By Daisy Jane Apit
Davao Today intern
DAVAO CITY – A retired executive judge of the Regional Trial Court here doused cold water on arguments for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in Congress, warning that it may narrow down the avenue to compel government offices to release important documents.
Calling the move “passe” and “not necessary”, retired court Judge Jesus B. Quitain said that the FOI bill may even “tie the hands” of the public from getting the correct and appropriate information they need.
“My belief is that we do not need the Freedom of Information bill. Today, anytime, any one of us – does not even have to be a newsman – can ask any government office, agencies to give us information about public transactions which involves public interest. They are obliged to give what you ask. If they don’t, then you can go to court or ombudsman,” Quitain told a regular Wednesday press conference at the Marco Polo Hote herel.
He said the Philippine Constitution has already a provision that supposedly bind government to “implement a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest”.
“These provisions are short and you don’t need a dictionary to define those. You don’t need to define ‘et cetera’. It’s better if broad and generic terms are used. Why? Because you can go anywhere. But the moment you make a law that are specified (then) you are tying down the hands of the people,” he said.
If the FOI becomes a law, it would provide government officials a “thick shield” and instead of letting the people know and and get information, it would hinder its very purpose, he said. “You cannot get anything. Because the law instead of encouraging the people to go to government and get information murag gipatay na nuon ang suga. Ngitngit na hinuon,” Quitain said.
He presented seven different bills filed by senators like Edgardo Angara, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. that cited the provision on the right to information and right to privacy that may set limitations to full public disclosure..
“Finally, we have the ‘good faith’ rule. What is meant by the good faith rule is that when the chief of office denied your request, you can not sue him or her for damages if he acted in good faith. Who would be a fool to admit that ‘I acted in bad faith’. All would say in good faith. How are you going to prove bad faith if it is already the law already favors one who acts in good faith,” he said.
“Kung magfile ka og case nga naa na ang FOI ilista na ang mga exceptions maayo pa ug wala na. Yung provisions nila, malabao talaga (If you file a case when the FOI is already in force, it would already list the exceptions. It would have been better if these were not there),” he said.
Also, he added, “where will you file the complaint, at the court or the Ombudsman? The court may say that it should be filed at the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman may later say that the case should be filed in court becuase of the merits of the case”.
“(The FOI) will just create duplication, overlapping of functions and confusion,” he said.
Quitain emphasized that it would be better if the people, or any ordinary taxpayer, would test the law and file a case in courtto compel any agency to give the information. “The Supreme Court would ultimately rule on this, and if ruled favorably, this should serve notice to all government offices in the future to act on any request.
Quitain declined to comment however, when asked if the local media community would continue to suppor the move to pass the FOI bill. “I am just a voice in the wilderness and I am only sharing my ideas on what the FOI bill is all about”..
“Ang akong gisulti karun will have no weight or whatsoever. I cannot even give an advice. Kutob ra ko to tell you of my idea of what it is. Lain man pud ug ang inyong gi-invite will impose on you, the press,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate described as diluted the Malacanang version of the FOI bill and warned that the bill would be used “for the interests of groups including Malacanang”.
“Ironically, while Pres. Aquino do not want to certify as urgent the passage of the FOI in the House of Representatives, its top communication lieutenants are, however, actively pushing its own version of the bill. The Palace version, unfortunately, includes many exceptions, including the so-called “executive privilege” that was the common excuse ironically used by the previous Arroyo administration to avoid and defeat public scrutiny of its misdeeds,” said the progressive solon, “Rep. Isagani, also an author of a version of FOI bill said.
“The non-passage or the even the passage of a weak, diluted or watered down FOI law will become a real testament as to how the present administration treated the core issues of full public disclosure of information, transparency and accountability,” he added. (davaotoday.com)