DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 July) — President Rodrigo Duterte signed Saturday a still unnumbered Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI), two days before delivering his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The EO “operationalizing in the executive branch the people’s constitutional right to information and the state policies of full public disclosure and transparency in the public service” was signed at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said in a press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel Sunday morning.
The Duterte EO covers only the executive branch and advocates for an FOI law are still pushing for its passage to cover all branches of government.
Andanar said the EO, finalized only on Saturday night, is expected to minimize if not eliminate corruption in the government offices under the Executive Branch.
“Corruption will be lessened in this government especially in the Executive Department. The Freedom of Information gives us an unimaginable access to government information, access that we never had before. We expect this executive order to even strengthen our right to information as inscribed in our 1987 Constitution,” he said.
Section 3 of the EO allows every Filipino access “to information, official records, public records and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for public development.”
The EO defines information as “any records, documents, papers, reports, letters, contracts, minutes and transcripts of official meetings, maps, books, photographs, data, research materials, films, sound and video, recording, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data, and computer stored data.”
It also mandates government officials under the Executive Branch to make their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) available for scrutiny.
People’s FOI Manual
Failure to comply with the EO will subject erring public officials to administrative and disciplinary sanctions as provided under existing laws or regulations, according to Section 15.
Section 8 provides that “government offices must prepare within 120 calendar days from the effectivity of this order a People’s Freedom to Information (FOI) Manual, which includes the location and contact information of the head, regional, provincial, and field offices, and other established places where the public can obtain information or submit requests; the person or office responsible for receiving requests for information; the procedure for the filing and processing of their requests for information; the standard forms for the submission of requests and for the proper acknowledgement of requests; the process for the disposition of requests; the procedure for the administrative appeal of any denial for access to information; and schedule of application fees.”
On exceptions, Section 4 states that “access to information shall be denied when the information falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, exisitng law or jurisprudence.
The Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General were directed to “prepare an inventory of such exceptions and submit the same to the Office of the President within 30 calendar days from the date of effectivity of this order.”
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) lauded Duterte “for making true his promise to institute a freedom of information mechanism for the Executive branch.”
“It is a big leap in the struggle towards making government transparent and accountable. Hopefully, following the example of Mr. Duterte, the 17th Congress will be finally prodded to enact an FOI law that covers all branches of government. That has been an effort of more than two decades already, to no avail,” it said.
Bayan Muna Rep.Carlos Isagani Zarate said the EO is “very good and long awaited step in the quest for transparency and accountability in government.”
Zarate is principal author of HB 334 or An Act to ensure public access to official records, documents and any other information of public concern,” which Bayan Muna first filed in 2004.
“We specially noted as positive moves the edict’s clear recognition of every Filipino’s right to ‘have access to information, official records, etc.’ and the ‘legal presumption to have access’ to the same as positive, even as we await the release of the inventory of possible exceptions to its applicability and constructively scrutinize the same,” Zarate added.
He noted that the executive’s initiative “is certainly a challenge now to Congress to pass an all embracing FOI law.”
He said they are urgin the House leadership to “fast track the passage of a genuine FOI bill, one that will truly reflect the principles of full transparency in government and full accountability of government officials and employees.” (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)