“Just like the Philippines Government, the Australian Government considers the people’s right to information of utmost importance,” said Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell at a dialogue held at the Australian Embassy between senior Congress and diplomatic representatives.
Deputy Speaker and Batanes Representative Henedina ‘Dina’ Abad, Public Information Committee Chairman and Misamis Occidental Representative Jorge Almonte, and Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo presented an update on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to diplomatic and development officers from Canada, the EU Delegation, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
“It is my pleasure to host this dialogue on the Philippines Freedom of Information (FOI) law, spearheaded by leaders from the Congress. I am particularly proud that we have members present from Congress to allow for a comprehensive update on the progress of the law,” Ambassador Tweddell said.
The Representatives present in the forum informed participants that the House Committee and Technical Working Group in the House of Representatives is currently reviewing 24 versions of the bill. They are also working to finalise discussions on the exceptions being proposed in the law.
The FOI bill is an integral element of the Aquino Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan of 2012-2016. The plan lays out reforms and initiatives that pursue greater transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in governance.
Ambassador Tweddell explained, “There is strong public interest in the FOI legislation and opportunities like this one help provide useful context to existing discourse on the issue.” He added, “Freedom of information is not just an issue in the Philippines, Australia and other countries also value its citizens’ right to access information from the government and I believe that makes today’s discussion very valuable.”
Australia enacted its FOI Act in 1982 after the Australian Parliament introduced the legislation in the 1970s. Since that time, the legislation in Australia has undergone several amendments, and been expanded, as the expectations of the Australian people have changed. The most recent reforms, in 2010, made it easier to request information and seek review of freedom of information (FOI) decisions. In addition, a special office was established with appointed Commissioners responsible for overseeing and reviewing FOI decisions.