'Freedom of Exemptions': Journalists slam FOI exemptions

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2016 06:12 PM

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) have lamented the exemptions placed on President Rodrigo Duterte's executive order on Freedom of Information (FOI) in the executive branch.

NUJP Secretary General Dabet Panelo said they consider the FOI draft a "Freedom of Exemptions," with 166 exemptions to what can be readily made available to the public. 

But Panelo emphasized, the FOI is not necessarily for the members of the press, when their jobs call for them to dig around as part of investigation and they would naturally arrive at the information.

"The FOI is actually for the people because we will do our job anyway. The people, this is their weapon. Pag pumunta sila sa barangay, bakit walang gamot sa barangay? Bakit walang gamot, bakit walang paracetamol? Nasaan ang listahan? Bakit naubos? Bakit walang nebulizer? Nasaan ang gastos? 'Yun 'yun eh," she said.

For CMFR's Board of Trustees' Chairman Vergel Santos, each exemption to the FOI curtails the freedom it has wanted to promulgate in the first place.

"The more general problem is that every exception necessarily narrows the freedom," he said.

Santos pointed out that it's no surprise that the FOI has not been passed in the House of Representatives and Senate "because the potential target of FOI are members of Congress."

He said, all the exemptions enumerated were "precisely in the public interest," but its placement around a law that is perceived to target corrupt practices, under a president who is supposedly anti-corruption, is understandable.

"There’s so many self-contradictory things about the president. He tells you he’s a populist leader…This falls perfectly into the sort of character that he is. He is ruling with an iron fist," he said.

Panelo pointed out that with a soaring popularity rate like President Duterte's, it is dangerous in sense that "people believe everything that he says."

But Santos maintained that this shouldn't be the case.

"That’s because we are now surrendering to the idea that every issue in this country should be decided by the numerical majority. So this is our point: Democracy has its own checks when it comes to these things," he said.