Fulfilling a campaign promise of transparency, President Duterte has signed an executive order (EO) allowing public access to documents and information in all government agencies under the Office of the President.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Mr. Duterte signed on Saturday the executive order adopting the long-pending freedom of information (FOI) bill that would cover for a start the executive branch of government.
Senators vowed to reintroduce the FOI bill that they had failed to pass at the close of the Aquino administration.
Aquino had vowed to pass the bill—which had undergone various incarnations even before his term—but failed to get it done despite his much-ballyhooed “daang matuwid,” or righteous path, governance.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who is likely to be elected Senate President today, promised yesterday: “The FOI bill will push through. That’s what we will do.”
“The executive order is like a law in the executive department,” Pimentel said.
But for this to be applicable to the other government branches, a law is required.
Andanar said there was “substantive pushing and pulling” for two weeks before the President signed the order.
He said the President’s move would be welcomed by “champions of good governance who … fought tooth and nail for the last 29 years to strengthen the right to information as inscribed in our 1987 Constitution.”
“After 29 years and only (after) 25 days (into the presidency) of Rody Duterte, this is already a record-breaking speed of cornerstone or milestone or a landmark executive order being signed,” he added.
Journalists, however, should not expect Mr. Duterte to end his “cold war” with them anytime soon.
Neither should the public look forward to him certifying as urgent the passage of the FOI bill to include state offices under the judiciary and legislative branches.
According to Andanar, the President’s FOI order in the executive branch had nothing to do with his decision to shun media interviews.
The former Davao City mayor, known for his uncouth behavior and expletive-ridden rants, verbally attacked the press on June 2 after an international media watchdog called for a boycott of his press briefings. This followed his statement that corrupt journalists are legitimate targets of assassination.
“The President has [more than] 30 Cabinet members. He has a working executive department and he has alter egos to answer for the questions that the media has for the President,” he added.
The executive order, 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 Therefor,” said it was consistent with the Constitution.
“Every Filipino shall have access to information, official records, public records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for public-development,” according to the directive.
Reading the order, Andanar said, information would refer to “any records, documents, papers, reports, letters, contracts, minutes and transcripts of official meetings, maps, books, photographs, data, research materials, films, sound and video recording, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data, computer stored data, or other like or similar data or materials recorded, stored or archived in whatever format.”
However, requests would be denied regarding information that “falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law or jurisprudence.”
The President also instructed every agency in the executive branch to “formulate their respective implementing details” 120 days after the effectivity of the FOI order.
Mr. Duterte said government agencies should not charge any fee for granting the requests, except for “reasonable fee to reimburse necessary costs.”
Sen. Grace Poe, while calling Mr. Duterte’s order “a milestone,” said the executive branch must be clear about exceptions to the open access and penalties to officials who would fail to comply.
“There are several exceptions that are mentioned I believe in the Constitution, especially when it comes to the right to privacy, which you will also have to trade off once you’re in government,” she said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said: “Transparency is key in a country with a history of corrupt government officials. We need transparency to hold our officials more accountable to their actions. Once we achieve that, public servants will always have the trust of the people.”
“There’s one important benchmark by which this FOI order should be measured, on how fast government permits can be secured. Clear, concise, cheaper way of getting government documents like passports and licenses,” Sen. Ralph Recto said in a statement.
source: Inquirer DOt Net