Heeding President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to make government transactions transparent to the public, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recently came out with its own Freedom of Information (FOI) Manual, making it one of the first government agencies to comply with the presidential order.
However, an organization of campus journalists on Saturday criticized Malacañang for not allowing private media organizations to cover the launch of the Freedom of Information online portal and manuals on Friday, saying it contrasts the principle of transparency that the FOI serves.
During the ceremonial signing of the FOI Manual, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno encouraged the DILG officials and personnel to use the manual as basis in disclosing information to the general public.
“Through the manual, the DILG upholds the right of its clients to access the official records, documents and transactions of the agency,” Sueno said.
“I hope that through this medium, we will be able to promote an open, transparent and accountable government,” he added.
The DILG’s FOI manual prescribes the appropriate timeline for the processing of a requested information based on their nature and mechanisms for acknowledgement upon receipt of a request.
A system of grievance redress and appeal was included for requests that have been denied or in the case of a delay in the processing.
Earlier, the President signed the landmark Executive Order No. 2, series of 2016 that mandates all executive agencies to prepare within 120 calendar days upon the effectivity of the order their respective manuals. The FOI manual should indicate the person or office responsible for receiving requests for information, the location and contact information of the office head, as well as prescribed forms to be used for requesting information and schedule of applicable fees, among others.
However, a group of campus journalists on Saturday slammed the Palace for not allowing private media organizations to cover the launch of an FOI online portal and manuals on Friday.
“Malacañang’s decision is worrying as it casts doubts on the government’s sincerity in implementing a genuine FOI mechanism. It goes against the Duterte administration’s supposed commitment to uphold transparency and the free flow of information,” Jose Mari Callueng, national president of College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), said.
The decision to allow only members of the state-owned media the Heroes Hall in Malacañang where the launch took place came from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdia, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar said.
The event was held on the same day President Duterte’s executive order on the FOI took effect.
“We remain in high hopes that the government will be true to its commitment to transparency and accountability. Implementing an FOI order is already a progress for the Filipino people. Let us not take a step backward,” Callueng said.
According to Callueng, it will be useful for anti-corruption advocates and journalists to follow the transactions of government agencies, especially on the use of public funds and other matters concerning the executive branch.
“The FOI EO can also be used by students to open the books of state universities and colleges to monitor the collection of tuition and other school fees as well other sources of income. Findings can be used to stop the collection of unjust and exorbitant fees,” Callueng added.
He, however, stressed the need for a comprehensive legislation on FOI that will require all three branches of government to open their transactions and papers to the public.