Freedom of information

Malacañang stops posting appointment papers of Duterte officials

Pia Ranada
Malacañang stops posting appointment papers of Duterte officials
In another blow to transparency, the Palace leaves it up to officials whether or not to disclose their government appointment

President Rodrigo Duterte’s Malacañang has, for months, stopped proactively making public the appointment papers of new government officials.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque confirmed there was such a policy on Thursday, September 3, during a virtual press briefing.

“Before, we’d post it. Now our policy in the OPS (Office of the Presidential Spokesperson) is it’s up to the official to post it if they want. We just have to confirm if an appoinment has been made,” said Roque.

He was being asked to confirm if former National Bureau of Investigation chief Dante Gierran has been issued appointment papers because Gierran, said earlier on Thursday that he had not received them yet.

The policy taking away proactive disclosure of appointments apparently came from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

“It was the Executive Secretary [who] said that it’s enough that we confirm appointments. We don’t have to post appointment papers,” said Roque.

The rule was introduced sometime from October 2018 to April 2020, when Roque had not yet returned as Duterte spokesman.

Roque insisted that despite the rule, Malacañang still lives up to Duterte’s vow of transparency.

“Well, there is still transparency because we confirm appointments but because the appointment paper is addressed to the appointee, it’s up to the appointee if they want to publicize it,” said Roque in Filipino.

However, the Palace often only confirms the appointment of an official if the media somehow gets wind of it, through social media leaks, tips, or rumors. By Roque’s explanation, if a Duterte appointee will really take pains to ensure the public does not know of his or her appointment, there’s a chance they will succeed since the Palace is leaving it to them to disclose the information.

Before, Malacañang would email to media outlets the list of new appointees and the appointment papers themselves. These documents would also be sent directly to Palace reporters through messaging apps.

It’s not clear why the rule was made.

Another transparency issue

Transparency is a constant issue for Malacañang under Duterte. Previously, Malacañang was criticized for edits of the President’s speeches. Reporters have also noticed how Palace staff no longer provide regular advisories of the President’s official schedule.

By far the biggest transparency issue dogging the Palace is its refusal to issue medical bulletins on the 75-year-old Duterte’s health, amid rampant speculation and the coronavirus health crisis.

The Duterte administration often cites the President’s Freedom of Information executive order as proof of his commitment to transparency.

However, departments often cite the many “exceptions” to this rule to deny FOI requests of citizens and media. In the case of lawyer Dino de Leon’s attempt to request Duterte medical bulletins from Malacañang, the Palace records office responded by saying they did not have the information. (READ: Freedom of information: What’s lacking in Duterte’s EO?)

Duterte’s FOI EO says, “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 policy development.”

The appointments of government officials are critical decisions made by the President which impact the public. For instance, the Chief Executive appoints Supreme Court justices, police and military chiefs, heads of regulatory agencies, and department heads.

Transparency on presidential appointees allows the public to scrutinize these new government officials and also voice their concerns regarding these appointees. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.