DOF releases People’s FOI manual

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The Department of Finance (DOF) has released its People’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Manual, which covers requests for access to information filed with the Office of the Secretary of the DOF and all its attached agencies and bureaus.

In a statement on Thursday, the DOF said the publication of the manual is in line with the government’s priority to uphold the people’s constitutional right to information and the state’s policy of full disclosure of its transactions involving public interest, subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law.

In Department Order 061-2016, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd promulgated the 19-page FOI Manual, which states in detail what types of information can and cannot be released to the public, the processes of filing requests for information and appeals involving the grant or denial of requests for access to information before the DOF Central Appeals and Review Committee and, whenever necessary, the Office of the President (OP).

The manual covers requests for access to information filed with the Office of the Secretary of the DOF and all its attached agencies and bureaus, “until such time as FOI manuals specific to each of the attached bureaus and agencies shall have been adopted and promulgated separately” by these offices.

“The DOF released the manual in time for the re-launching of the government’s online central database—Open Data Philippines at www.data.gov.ph—as part of the implementation of President Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) No. 2 on freedom of information,” it said.

In his FOI directive, Dominguez named Undersecretary Bayani Agabin, who heads the DOF’s Legal Services Group and Domestic Finance Group, as head of the

Department’s Central Appeals and Review Committee that will review and decide on future appeals for reconsideration of denied requests.

As stated in the manual, “the responsibility for all actions of the DOF carried out under [its]FOI manual is hereby delegated to the Undersecretary for Policy Development and Management Services Group.”

Undersecretary Gil Beltran, who is also the DOF’s anti-red tape czar and chief economist, currently heads this group.

“Section 7, Article III of the 1987 Constitution guarantees the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, and provides that access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law,” Dominguez said in his order.

The Order also states that: “Based on jurisprudence, while access to official records may not be prohibited, it certainly may be regulated by a public officer pursuant to either statutory law or his inherent power to control his office and the records under his custody, by exercising some discretion as to the manner in which persons desiring to inspect, examine, or copy the record may exercise their rights.”

Under the DOF manual, official records, public records and documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development can be accessed.

“There shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information, official records and public records, and no request for access may be denied by the Department of Finance and its attached bureaus and agencies,” the manual stated.

Besides allowing access to information, the manual also states that the DOF should proactively disclose through their website, at no cost to the public and in an accessible form, “timely, true, accurate and updated key information including, but not limited to matters pertaining to its mandate, structure, powers, functions, duties and decision making processes; frontline services; and names of its key officials, their powers, functions and responsibilities, and their profiles and curriculum vitae; \
The DOF should also proactively disclose work programs, development plans, investment plans, projects, performance targets and accomplishments, and budgets, revenue allotments and expenditures; important rules and regulations, orders or decisions; current and important database and statistics; bidding processes and requirements; and mechanisms or procedures by which the public may participate in or otherwise influence the formulation of policy or the exercise of its powers.

Dominguez named Beltran as the FOI decision maker of the Office of the Secretary who will be primarily responsible for evaluating requests for access to information, and in authorizing or denying them based on the Manual’s provisions.

Each bureau and agency under the DOF should also designate their respective FOI decision makers, with a rank of not lower than a Director or its equivalent.

The Manual provides for a 15-day deadline, from the time the request was received, for the release of the requested document or response of the DOF or its attached bureaus and agencies to the information needed.

A person whose request was denied has 15 calendar days from the notice of denial to file an appeal before the Central Appeals and Review Committee, which shall decide on the matter within 30 working days.

“Failure to decide within the 30-day period shall be deemed a denial of the appeal,” the manual said.

The decision of the central committee can still be appealed before the OP. If the appeal is still denied by the OP, one can resort to judicial action.

Any failure to comply with the manual’s provisions shall be penalized with a reprimand for the first offense, a 30-day suspension for the second offense; and dismissal from the service for the third offense.

Access to information is free of charge, although minimal fees may be charged by the DOF for reproducing, authenticating or certifying the requested documents.

The manual shall take effect 15 days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation.

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