Proponents of the Freedom of Information bill hail the technical working group of the House committee on Public Information for the approval of its consolidated version on Wednesday (September 3, 2014) at the House of Representatives in Batasan Complex, Quezon City. From left are Paranaque City Rep. Gustavo Tambunting; Ang NARS party list Rep. Leah Paquiz; Committee on Public Information chairman and Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte; Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia; Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez and Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo. (MNS photo)

Proponents of the Freedom of Information bill hail the technical working group of the House committee on Public Information for the approval of its consolidated version on Wednesday (September 3, 2014) at the House of Representatives in Batasan Complex, Quezon City. From left are Paranaque City Rep. Gustavo Tambunting; Ang NARS party list Rep. Leah Paquiz; Committee on Public Information chairman and Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte; Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia; Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez and Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – The House appropriations committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the budget provision in the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2013, deemed as one of the bill’s most salient clauses.

The committee’s approval of the budget provision means all agencies of the executive, legislative and judiciary will have the necessary funds to comply with the measure’s requirements on the mandatory disclosure of information.

Section 30 of the proposed bill states that the appropriations shall be “the amount necessary to carry out the provisions of [the] Act [and] shall be charged against the agencies’ current budget and shall thereafter be included in the annual General Appropriations Act.”

The substitute FOI bill will now be returned to the House public information panel for the creation of a committee report before it is transmitted to the plenary for second reading.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III, one of the advocates for the passage of FOI bill in Congress, lauded the appropriations committee’s action on the bill.

“The budget is one of the crucial components of the bill as it determines if the bill could be successfully implemented. Without it, our efforts to pass the bill to ensure government transparency and practice of governance will simply end up as a shot in the dark,” he said in a statement.

Cyber office

Should the FOI bill be passed into law, all government agencies will be required to publish and regularly update its own Freedom of Information Manual in full, containing the necessary information regarding the contact information of key offices and personnel, the type of information it holds and the procedures on how they shall be accessed.

Public interests records concerning the particular agencies are also required to be published regularly on their websites, meaning the website of each agency must contain documents about its annual budget, itemized monthly collections and disbursement, summary of income and expenditures, annual procurement plan and procurement list, bidding items and results of transactions.

All pertinent documents and records of transactions and meetings which are of public interest will also be made accessible to the public.

Furthermore, all government websites are required to maintain a “cyber office” wherein all the necessary information about the agency, the types and forms of services it offers, and the standard procedures of access are provided and readily available to the public online.

‘Progressive but well-balanced’ bill

For Gutierrez, the creation of “cyber offices” will not only help the government save cost in disclosing important information, but will also help the public access data conveniently.

“With the aid of technology, we are advancing the people’s right to information while making the government more responsive to the needs of the people,” he said.

The FOI bill was passed by the public information committee last November after languishing for more than a year in its technical working group. It heralded by the committee members as a “progressive but well-balanced” measure that prioritizes the public’s need to access information while also giving importance to the need to protect the State’s interest.

The Senate approved its version of the FOI bill on third and final reading last March.

President Benigno Aquino III has repeatedly assured the public that the FOI bill will be passed during his term. (MNS)