THERE is not much noise (cheers or boos) when PRRD signed the executive order on the Freedom of Information (FOI) morning last Sunday. There was not much fanfare. It was like an ordinary day save it was a Sunday when, previously, not much was heard of the sitting President on a Sunday morning. But those were the days gone and a new order has taken over in Malacañang, where, in 24 days, much has been accomplished.
The point PRRD is now making is an institutional challenge to both the legislative and the judiciary, to now come out with their own FOI if the 17th Congress is unable to up their game and come up with a law on the same. It now falls on the laps of elected representatives who now head Congress: Sen. Koko Pimentel for the Senate and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for the House of Representatives. On the other branch is Aquino-appointed Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. I made a qualification since it behooves elected representatives to act fast as the FOI has been supported by the public at large since six years ago.
Six years ago, candidate BSA3 promised FOI shall be enacted for it was the heart and soul of Daang Matuwid. At that time, Aquino was running on a platform of anti-corruption, framed as it is after the presidency of GMA. At that time, the mantra, kung walang korap, walang mahirap, was a promise embraced by some as the panacea of the ills of the nation longing for honest and upright leaders. Alas, six years after, despite the tagline adopted as a political nickname, Daang Matuwid was rejected for the undeniable truth was corruption was not mitigated and poverty was relegated, despite the doubling and tripling of the conditional cash transfer program.
So why is the crafting and signing of an FOI important? It should be recalled that during the campaign, only two candidates were strong in stating that FOI will be their first executive order. Those were former Vice President Jojo Binay and Sen. Grace Poe. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was belated in embracing it; in fact, he just said he would copy the platforms of the candidates because they sounded good and it looked like they had studied and prepared for it. Common sense working there and we will see a lot of that in the coming days. While the candidates took pride in working late nights to have a platform and check it against available data, the mayor from Davao was just so happy to say that he will just copy them. And he embraced FOI just like that.
A lot of people were saying that it is one to say and another thing to do, but on the eve of his first state-of-the-nation address (SONA), PRRD signed the six-page document that covers all his administration’s acts in the next six years. Some quarters were suggesting that it should have a retroactive effect, but here you immediately see the difference of a Duterte from an Aquino. He will probably not go the way of a persecuting, prosecuting Aquino, using all instrumentalities off government to get what he wants. But there will be redress of the nation’s grievances by citizens filing cases against Aquino, et al., in particular the DAP, Yolanda funds, and Mamasapano, among others.
The six-page document is direct and simple. It lodges its formulation to Section 28 (full disclosure of all transactions involving public interest), Article II and Section 7 (the right of the people to information on matters of public concern), Article III of the Constitution. The coverage is wide that takes into account the national government, including GOCCs, SUCs and LGUs.
Access to information is not limited to public records and documents, but also covers “government research data used as basis for public development.” Exceptions are to be defined by the DOJ and the solicitor general, and shall be updated from time to time. Interesting that you have the solicitor general and not just the DOJ. Further, the order states in clear and certain terms that “there shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information, public records and official records.” The order likewise directed “every government office to prepare within 120 days their own People’s FOI Manual on the point person, processes and procedures and applicable fees.” The order provides a general procedure under Section 9. As a general rule, “government officers shall not charge any fee for accepting requests for access to information.” However, it can “charge a reasonable fee to reimburse necessary costs.” The order provides grounds for denial and remedies in cases of denial (appeal to the next higher authority or filing of appropriate case in the proper courts).
Critics have said what’s the point of having an executive order when the next President will just so decide to set it aside, or that there is no criminal liability. True, hence we need to consistently push the 17th Congress for an FOI law. Section 15 of the order speaks about administrative liability. To have an FOI at the start of an administration is already victory. To move it and implement it, even just at the executive-branch level is already a breakthrough.
The FOI covers Duterte, his Cabinet, and 40,000 appointments he has or will be making, 1.7 million bureaucrats at the national level. At the local level, it covers 81 provinces, 145 cities, 1,490 municipalities, and 42,029 barangays.
Change is here and on the 24th day of the Duterte administration, it has rocked us to either move with it in a constructive fashion or continue throwing water bombs at imaginary constructs. Some say, Why should we support? Others state, What is there not to support?
And we fail to give ourselves credit where we must. We are the change what we are looking for.