On June 30, 2016, President RodrigoDuterte stressed in his inaugural speech, “I direct all department secretaries and the heads of agencies to reduce requirements and the processing time of all applications, from the submission to release.” A few days after, the Presidential Communications Office said that an Executive Order (EO) is being drafted that would implement the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) law. Processing time reduction and EO on FOI are very much connected to one another as their common critical success factor is greatly hinged on the automation of the service processes of all government offices through the use of information and communications technology (ICT). That means, it’s time for those offices (i.e., all departments, bureaus, offices and agencies of the government, as well as all government-owned and-controlled corporations) to computerize their internal operations if they haven’t done it yet to cope with these mandates. The good news, however, is that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 10844, will definitely help those offices to hasten the implementation of computerized information systems.
Incidentally, automating the service processes of government offices means activation of the e-Commerce Law of 2000 or RA 8792. The objective of that law is to facilitate domestic and international dealings, transactions, arrangements, agreements, contracts and exchanges and storage of information through the utilization of ICT. To promote the universal use of electronic transaction in the government and general public, RA 8792 shall apply to any kind of data message and electronic document used in the context of commercial and noncommercial activities. As a simple definition, an electronic data message or electronic document is any electronic file providing information that is produced, transmitted, received or stored by electronic means. It is important to understand that electronic documents under RA 8792 shall have the legal effect, validity or enforceability as any other document or legal writing.
To comply with RA 8792 means facilitating the issuance of permits or licenses quickly and hastening the transaction with the government agencies which would accept payments and issue receipts in the form of electronic data messages or electronic documents. Henceforth, reducing the processing time of all applications from the submission to release is supported by the e-Commerce Law.
It is interesting to note that the e-Commerce Law requires government offices to use electronic data messages, electronic documents and electronic signatures within two (2) years from the date of its effectivity in 2000. When asked if Comelec is compliant with RA 8792, a senior legal officer said, “I disagree in the sense that I do not know that there was such compliance. If there is compliance, I should know… I did not hear of that in Comelec or from anyone here. I heard about it on my own because of our continuing legal education.”
Sometime in 2012, I interviewed former Commissioner Gus Lagman. He said that Comelec is like a “virgin forest” with so many things to do and improve. Aside from automating human resources management, accounting and other common office automation systems, Comm. Lagman commented, “Automating the election is not the only application that you can automate in Comelec. One of the recommendations I made was to automate the monitoring of election cases. Commissioners are assigned with election cases. Ni-ra-raffle yan. You have to know where this election case is. Kanino ba ito na-raffle? Kunwari kay Gus Lagman! Oh, when did he receive the documents? Is it still with him? So in other words, na-mo-monitor mo….”
Comm. Lagman added, “Side by side with the monitoring of cases, let us allow the electronic filing of cases. And the reason for that is…when you file an election case, you have to complete all the documents. Alam mo ‘yang documents na yan, minsan isang balikbayan box! You have to submit something like eleven (11) copies. Suppose ‘yung case mo is a barangay election case, and say that you are in Mindanao, you have to send 11 copies to Intramuros. Ang hirap, hindi ba? So sabi ko, we should allow electronic filing of cases. So, at least the guy, can just email it to us. And then kung kailangan na natin, if you want to see the documents, then we can just ask for a copy. Parang ganoon, noh!…Pero first, let’s go over the documents from electronic filing. That saves the filer… a lot!…They started when I was still there. That was assigned to Commissioner Lim as he is in charge of election adjudication.…That falls very much under e-Commerce Act. Kasi you are automating the services you provide the public.” Therefore, compliance with RA 8792 contributes to the reduction of processing time in serving the Filipinos and to the enhancement of employees productivity due to time savings in its internal operations.
The disclosure of public documents through the President’s EO on FOI is also supported by e-Commerce Law compliance. For instance, a financial statement of an agency or even any accounting-related information may be retrieved in no time when accessed through a computerized financial management system or when browsing the agency’s website. The public documents are just a click away!In 2014, Senator Grace Poe emphasized the need for the FOI bill to be passed and said, “This will institutionalize transparency in government, so that whoever is in power, from the barangay captain to the President, no one is allowed to keep information from the public, except for those things cited as exemptions if the FOI is enacted . . . Nagkaroon ng PDAF scandal kasi hindi ninyo alam ang nangyayari sa gobyerno.”
The directive of President Duterte to reduce the processing time of all applications from the submission to release and the expected enforcement of EO on FOI are two compelling forces that have awakened the inactive power of the e-Commerce Law. And firmly, “Change is Coming!”