ON THE eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), Malacañang announced the signing of an executive order (EO) that “operationalizes” Freedom of Information (FOI), a constitutionally guaranteed right that was never implemented until today.
In a news conference in Davao City on Sunday morning, Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Duterte signed the EO last Saturday, in fulfillment of his 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.”
Andanar also said the approval of the landmark measure would be among the major feats achieved by his 23-day-old administration that Duterte would mention in his SONA.
Duterte will face Congress today to lay down his legislative agenda, including the need to legislate an FOI measure 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 the government.
A bill on the FOI failed to muster enough support in the 16th Congress.
Andanar explained that any person who requests access to information shall submit a written request to the government office concerned, then the request shall state the name and contact information of the requesting party, provide valid proof of his 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, free of charge.
But the Palace official 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. JOEL M. SY EGCO