MANILA, Philippines – Several groups lauded the Executive Order (EO) on Freedom of Information (FOI), which was signed Saturday, July 23, by President Rodrigo Duterte two days before his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25.
Kabataan Party-List Representative Sarah Elago described the landmark order as a “great stride” in empowering citizens – especially the youth – against corruption and government inefficiency.
“For the youth, in particular, this can be a great tool to compel the administrations of state universities to release documents pertinent to the use of tuition and other school fee collections, and even other income-generating projects that some universities like UP engage in,” she said.
“The new EO will undoubtedly help us in our fight against exorbitant and redundant fees, and also shed light on our public school system’s use of public funds,” Elago added.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on Sunday, July 24, that Duterte signed the order mandating the full disclosure of all offices under the executive branch on Saturday night. It is his second EO less than a month in office. (READ: Duterte signs order on Freedom of Information)
Need to pass full law
Although it is a “welcome first step toward realizing the people’s right to information,” ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio said that the Congress still needs to pass the FOI law.
“There’s still an urgent need to pass an FOI Act, such as the one we have filed in Congress, that would cover all of government and address some of the exceptions to freedom of information that have, in the past, been abused by those in power to thwart citizens’ access to public information,” he said.
The directive will cover “all government offices under the executive branch including, but not limited to, the national government and all its offices, departments, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities including government-owned and -controlled corporations, state universities and colleges.”
No person shall be denied access to information, the EO stated, unless the requested information fall under the list of exceptions which the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Solicitor General (OSG) must provide within 30 calendar days.
The EO does not cover requests for information under the legislative and judicial branches and independent constitutional commissions.
According to Elago, some of the “many limitations” such as the invocation of “executive privilege and national security” are the exceptions that they opposed in the crafting of the FOI bill in the Congress.
“We remain adamant in our call for the passage of a comprehensive FOI law,” she stressed.
FOI Youth Initiative also called for the passage of the full FOI law.
“While this is a very welcome development, we hope that this new administration will continue to pursue the enactment of a complete Freedom of Information Law through legislation, with provisions requiring access to particular documents and data in all levels of government, penalties for public officials and employees who deny such access, and other components that will truly guarantee transparency, accountability, and people’s participation,” the group stated.
While the Senate passed its version of the FOI in 2014 and former president Benigno Aquino III named it as one of his legislative priorities in 2015, the House of Representatives failed to pass it in the 16th Congress. (READ: Homestretch: Will FOI, Bangsamoro, anti-political dynasty bills be dead in 2016?)
According to advocates, contentious provisions such as the right of reply kept the House from passing the important bill that has already been long delayed. (READ: What happened to FOI under Aquino?) – Rappler.com
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