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    Posted January 27, 2014 by

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    Phl senator warns FOI bill raises Charter issues

    PHILIPPINE Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Monday said she strongly supports Freedom of Information Bill, but Congress should prepare for constitutional issues that might be raised in the Supreme Court.
    Santiago, who is suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, made one more rare appearance in the Senate plenary session to interpellate on the pending FOI Bill sponsored by Sen. Grace Poe.
    Santiago said that there are two provisions in the Bill of Rights which might clash with each other: the Privacy of Communications, and the Right to Information.
    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," she said.
    In particular, 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. vs Nixon, in the United States.
    She also repeatedly cited Philippine cases, including the 2012 Chavez vs Public Estates Authority, and the 2008 case of Neri vs 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 Supreme Court ruling emphasized the provision in the Philippine Mining Act requiring the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (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.
    She said that one example are budget spread sheets.
    Santiago even took time to probe deeper into the bill's provision for "plain language."
    She cited a little booklet entitled Elements of Style by Strunk and White as a good example of how to use plain language.
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