‘Open data’ satisfies FOI needs – Malacañang

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IT may not be considered as a substitute to the controversial freedom of information (FOI) bill that is still pending in Congress but Malacañang’s pet project, Open Data Philippines, already satisfies the Constitutional requirement of an open and transparent governance by freely sharing information to the public.

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“We’ve shown the determination of the executive branch. We’ve put out Open Data already, which is also access to information. We are complying with the constitutional provisions on access to information,” Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Monday.

He explained that since legislating an FOI law is a function of Congress, the executive branch deemed it fit to take the “easier” way to give the public free access to government information.

“Open Data is there to show that we are going to upload data, so there is no issue on being open, being transparent. We are going to put it out.

Open Data is easier for us to do because it was an executive action. We are putting out all data by the executive branch. So it’s easier on our part, on our branch [to implement this]Open Data: Lacierda, who is also chairman of the Open Data Task Force, stressed.

The FOI bill has been languishing in the legislature for more than two decades. The Senate, through Sen. Grace Poe, expects to approve the measure within the first quarter of the year. However, it is again expected to face rough sailing in the House of Representatives where the measure was “killed” even while it was still in the committee level.

By comparison, Open Data and FOI are practically similar in substance and form. But Lacierda explained there is only one stark difference. He said that while open Data is “supply-driven,” FOI is “demand-driven.”

“At some point, they may intersect so that some of the questions that FOI advocates might be asking will be uploaded, and you don’t need to ask, but at some point there might be still questions,” Lacierda said.

The Palace official said that during the campaign period, Open Data, had not even been conceived so that when people talked about access to information the only thing that came to mind was the FOI.

“It was not even in the radar of people talking about . . . People were talking about access on information and the only thing that they were looking into was just the Freedom of Information. This administration came out and put out Open Data, which is—nobody expected it,” Lacierda added.

Besides, he said the FOI bill is a very contentious measure that is why President Aquino 3rd has not certified it as “urgent.”

“[The] FOI would have to deal also with the concerns of the legislative branch. Some legislators have concerns, so those concerns have to be threshed out . . . We’re not afraid of any secrets. In fact, lahat naman ngayon na mga issues, nilalabas naman namin, and we’re very open about it,” the official further stressed.

Lacierda noted that the Aquino administration has been religiously releasing to the public data that were never before seen by the public such as those on the Priority Development Assistance Fund, the Disbursement Acceleration program and others of national concern.

“We have never shied away from disclosing what the public deserves to
know,” he pointed out.

Open Data Philippines, Lacierda further explained, is a “step toward transparency and accountability” which is the true spirit of the FOI bill.

“We are going to upload all data that has already been curated, that is already fit for uploading to let the people know this is what the government is doing. If you want to know, for instance, how many schools are there in your locality, you just can go to Open Data [data.gov.ph], tingnan ninyo kung ano ang mga [eskwelahan],” he emphasized.

At the opening of the good governance summit last week, President Aquino himself heralded the launching of the Open Data project and made no mention about the FOI.

The president described it as a platform “that will collate all relevant government data, not only for use in governance, but also for the information and use of the wider public.”

“Open Data Philippines is a website for publicly available, up-to-date national data—from the total enrollment in public secondary schools over a certain period of time, to the aforementioned budget and procurement data and everything in between. As the project progresses, we can only expect the wealth and depth of data available online to grow, with information on anything and everything we can think of,” Aquino told delegates to the summit.

“This is also something our government can make use of. As President, I thought that I would have access to all kinds of information any time, every time, and all the time. To a degree, that is true. But it is not as simple as punching a few keys on a keyboard. Sometimes, it actually involves wading through documents that are fragile, given their age—and that only happens, of course, if you can find out immediately where these documents are located. Open Data is a step towards having all information at our fingertips—which we can use to better assess, improve, and even develop programs and policies,” he noted.

According to its website, Open Data will primarily serve as a tool against corruption. Also one of its primary goals “is to foster a citizenry empowered to make informed decisions, and to promote efficiency and transparency in government.”

“Data.gov.ph aims to make national government data searchable, accessible, and useful, with the help of the different agencies of government, and with the participation of the public,” it said, adding hard copies of government records would be uploaded in computer readable formats to make them easier for research.

This website consolidates the datasets of different government agencies, allowing users to find specific information from a rich and continuously growing collection of public datasets.

The website provides information on how to access these datasets and tools, such as infographics and other applications, to make the information easy to understand. Users may not only view the datasets, but also share and download them as spreadsheets and other formats, for their own use.

Being interactive, the public can comment, make suggestions and even tell of anything they would like to share. It is also considered as a one-stop shop to know the status of public bidding and how taxes are spent by the government.

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