WHAT former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III failed to do during his six-year term as chief executive, President Rodrigo Duterte did it within 25 days after taking over the reins of government.
On Saturday night in Davao City, President Duterte signed an Executive Order on Freedom of Information 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.”
The unnumbered EO requires all government offices under the executive branch to give the public access on any public record or information except those that are covered by National Security or the personal information of executive officials to protect their privacy.
Specifically, the EO defines public information as “records, documents, papers, reports, letters, contracts, minutes and transcripts of official meetings, maps, books, photographs, data, research materials, sound and video recording, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data, computer stored data or other like or similar data or materials, recorded stored archived or whatever format.”
“Every Filipino shall have access to information, official records public records and documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions and decision as well as government research data used as basis for public development,” the order read.
A list of exemption on the coverage of the unnumbered EO is still being drawn.
Nevertheless, President Duterte directed the justice department and the Office of the Solicitor General to prepare an inventory of exceptions and submit to his office that list within 30 days from the effectivity of the EO.
The EO will cover all government offices under the executive branch including departments, bureaus and instrumentalities. It will also be implemented in state-run firms, universities and colleges. However, it will not cover congress and the judiciary because of the doctrine of the separation of powers.
Those who will disobey the order will be administratively sanctioned,
Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar said it would be up to the legislature to decide whether to enact an FOI law that would cover all government branches.
“The President believes in the indpendence of each branch of government,” Andanar said. He added that local government units are encouraged to observe and be guided by the order.
Green group lauds EO on FOI
Meanwhile, the EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental and public health watchdog, lauded President Duterte for issuing an EO on the much sought FOI.
“While it is no substitute to an all-encompassing FOI law that would apply to all branches and levels of the government, Duterte’s order is surely a huge boost to building a more transparent, accountable and responsive government that our people want,” said Noli Abinales, EcoWaste Coalition president.
“The public will now have guaranteed access to a wide range of information pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions by offices under the executive branch. We trust that Congress will take its cue from the president and pass an all-inclusive FOI law within a short period of time,” he emphasized.
Abinales also said “the FOI law not only as an anti-corruption tool, but as an indispensable instrument that can contribute to the attainment of the people’s right to basic services, healthy environment and socially-just development.”
“We likewise hope that Congress will enact other ‘right to know’ laws such as a national Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) legislation that will provide public access to a database of hazardous chemicals and pollutants discharged to air, water and soil and transferred off-site for treatment or disposal by business or industrial facilities,” he adds.
As the inventory of exceptions has yet to be drawn up by the DoJ and OSG, the EcoWaste Coalition expressed its hope that the exceptions would be few and would not be used to inhibit public disclosure by government agencies and officials.
“Specifically, information that is relevant to the health and safety of the people and the ecosystems should be made readily available and not treated as confidential. We also hope that the implementing details to be prepared by government offices under the executive branch will be procedurally simple and rapid to entice public participation,” Abinales said.