ON THE eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), Malacañang announced that the Chief Executive has finally signed an executive order (EO) mandating Freedom of Information (FOI), a constitutionally guaranteed right that had never been implemented.
In a news conference in Davao City on Sunday morning, Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Duterte signed the EO on Saturday, in fulfillment of the President’s promise to deliver the measure before his SONA.
“The (EO) covers all government offices under the Executive branch, including government corporations and state universities,” Andanar said during the gathering that was aired live by the state-run People’s Television Network. “No request for information shall be denied.”
He said the approval of the landmark measure will be among the major feats so far achieved by the 25-day-old administration that Duterte will mention in his SONA.
Duterte will face Congress today to lay down his legislative agenda, including the need to pass an FOI law so that disclosures of information could cover all branches of government, not just the Executive.
Titled “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 and Providing Guidelines Thereof,” the EO is a campaign promise of then presidential candidate Duterte to make public documents and records more available to citizens and promote transparency in government.
A bill on the FOI failed to muster enough support in the 16th Congress.
Andanar said any person who requests information shall submit a written request to the government office concerned.
The request shall state the name and contact information of the requesting party, provide valid proof of identification or authorization, reasonably describe the information requested, and the reason for or purpose of the request for information.
The public official receiving the request shall provide reasonable assistance and can charge a reasonable cost to the person making the request.
Andanar however clarified that there will be “exceptions.”
“Access to information shall be denied when the information falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law or jurisprudence. The Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General are directed to prepare an inventory of such exceptions,” he said, citing a provision in the EO.
The EO on the FOI is a landmark measure as the bill has languished in the legislature for 29 years, or since the ratification of the 1987 Constitution.
Citizens urged to test EO
Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus called on citizens’ groups to test the EO to look into the programs of previous administrations.
“For starters, the FOI order may now be used to initiate inquiries into where the funds for calamity prevention, mitigation, and rehabilitation went during the last six years of the Aquino administration. We hope it will now lead to making public officials accountable for corruption and abuse,” she said in a statement.
Senator Grace Poe, who led efforts in the Senate to pass the FOI bill, said the signing of the EO was a “good step towards accountability in government,” but an FOI law should still be passed to cover all branches of government.
Poe also said Duterte has to list down the exceptions and penalties to be imposed against government officials who do not comply.
“Because if it’s just a slap on their wrist or it’s just a minor penalty then there’s no motivation to actually comply with the law,” she said in a television interview.
Luis Teodoro, national chairman of AlterMidya, a national network of independent and alternative media outfits, cautioned that a long list of exceptions would restrict rather than expand access to information.
JOEL M. SY EGCO