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Business groups want proprietary information excluded from FOI bill

BUSINESS GROUPS are asking Congress to protect business proprietary information in the proposed bills on Freedom of Information (FOI).

The House of Representatives is deliberating 19 bills that would allow citizens to request information about government transactions and operations.

In a position paper sent on Saturday, the business groups said that they support the inclusion of documents from private firms that transact with government agencies where public funds are used.

“However, only the documents submitted by private entities in relation to the government-funded project or government transaction should be covered in order to maintain the privacy of and to protect, proprietary information relating to patents, formulation, packaging of products, intellectual property, production, testing methods, and the like,” the groups said.

The disclosure of such information could negatively affect commercial or business interests, they added.

The statement was signed by 20 groups, led by the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines and various foreign chambers such as the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. and the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.

“We fully commit to advocate for an FOI Act that will uphold integrity, accountability, and transparency of the government which at the same time, is protective of the rights of commercial undertakings or businesses as we believe this can pave the way for favorable economic development in the country,” the business groups said.

They said the proposed FOI law should only cover information voluntarily submitted by businesses in their government transactions.

The law could be used to conduct “commercial and industrial espionage,” the groups said in the paper addressed to House Committee on Public Information Chairman and Cagayan Rep. Joseph L. Lara.

“An unbridled right to access proprietary information from business entities simply because of their participation in government transactions or contracts can result in prejudice.”

Data on patents, formulation, packaging of products, intellectual property, production, and testing methods submitted by the private sector during the procurement process should be excluded, the groups said.

“Commercial and proprietary information are key assets essential to the success of businesses and must remain confidential at all times.”

The business groups also supported proposals to retain proper records management, create an independent appeals and review body, and ban the use of information for illegal and malicious purposes.

“The law must also give legal basis for a cause of action for damages in favor of aggrieved persons. This would guarantee against any abuse of the exercise of this right under the FOI Law,” they said.

The FOI bill is not part of the priority measures identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) Executive Committee for approval by Congress by end-2021. — Jenina P. Ibañez

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