Philippine legal body supports FOI bill

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LCMP, Arlene Lapuz Ureta
Arlene Lapuz Ureta discusses the FOI Bills with the technical working group

The president of the Legal Management Council of the Philippines (LMCP), Arlene Lapuz Ureta, has taken part in discussions during a virtual congressional hearing surrounding the mandated public disclosure of documents, and exceptions to this rule.

The hearing was conducted by the Philippines House of Representatives’ committee on public information technical working group. The group is consolidating different versions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which aim to mandate public disclosure of documents of interest to the Philippines, and outline the exceptions for disclosure and the procedures for accessing public records.

The LMCP is an association of corporate legal counsel with leading domestic and multinational corporations, as well as legal service providers in the country.

Ureta, who also represented the Makati Business Club (MBC), spoke before the Philippine Business Groups-Joint Foreign Chambers (PBG-JFC) prior to the hearing, where she presented salient features of the bill, which was sponsored by congressman Alfred Vargas.

She stressed that the FOI law could be a considerable boost to enhancing transparency and accountability in the government, and could serve business interests in ensuring a level playing field in the private sector, especially in the conduct of transactions with the government.

“The FOI might just be the best tool to ensure that corruption and other illegal acts will no longer be perpetrated under a regime of full disclosure, and complete access to information of vital interest to the general public, subject to a few exceptions to afford protection to personal privacy, and proprietary and commercial information,” Ureta told Asia Business Law Journal.

“More importantly, I am proud to have our [LMCP’s] proposals on the bills adopted in the final position paper on the FOI bill issued by the MBC and various business groups belonging to PBG-JFC,” she said.

In its position paper submitted to the committee, the MBC and the PBG-JFC adopted the LMCP’s proposals to protect commercial and proprietary information of business entities, which will constitute a limitation of the right granted under the FOI Law to prevent its abuse.

The LMCP also proposed appeals, a review system and the creation of an independent commission with exclusive jurisdiction to resolve such appeals and FOI-related issues within a reasonable timeframe, and under simple rules of procedure.

The House of Representatives’ committee aims to finalise the bill before congress adjourns in October, when politicians will begin filing their candidacy certificates and preparing for the 2022 elections.

This FOI bill was initially proposed in 2016 by former president Benigno Aquino. Current President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in the same year, supported the bill and signed an executive order to establish the first FOI programme covering all government offices under the executive branch.