MANILA -- The Freedom of Information (FOI) program is far from perfect, but a top communications official on Wednesday said the only way to improve it is to identify its weaknesses and learn from them.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Kristian Ablan made this remark acknowledging critics’ opinion that “too much discretion” to government information has been pointed out as among the FOI program’s flaws.
“Freedom of information or access to information, from the point of view of government, is its manifestation of the prevailing culture of transparency. If the culture in government is open, then FOI flourishes. If it is closed, then there’s no access to speak of,” Ablan said in a speech during the 2nd FOI Summit at the National Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium in Manila.
Ablan, who is also FOI Program Director, pointed out that the PCOO and other concerned agencies have already laid out measure to help transform government from being “closed and secretive” to “open and transparent”, one office at a time.
“For 2019, we commit to identify mistakes, take stock of the lessons learned, continue best practices, take on new challenges, and promote greater collaboration among stakeholders in performing our duties as public servants,” Ablan said.
Ablan bared that the PCOO has proposed the creation of an FOI Advisory Committee which would provide a seat for civil society organizations (CSOs) to engage in discussion with government to determine how to put a balance between the public’s right to information and government’s right to privacy.
“Should government be the sole body to determine what a public interest is or should those who request information be involved? We feel that both sectors government and CSOs should meet together and come up with these policies,” Ablan said.
Ablan said the proposed FOI Advisory Committee, which the PCOO pitched as early as May, has yet to be approved by the Office of the President (OP).
He, however, expressed optimism that the OP will issue a memorandum circular (MC) or executive order (MO) on the FOI Advisory Committee before the end of the year or by early next year.
Aside from the FOI Advisory Committee, Ablan said the government also continues to conduct regular stakeholder consultations and FOI officers’ workshops; hold monthly FOI roadshows, and FOI campus caravans.
There is also the continuous effort to regularly inform local government personnel on the merits of the FOI and enhance the e-FOI portal.
Ablan said one of the merits is that this information is paid for by taxpayer’s money so taxpayers have every right to request for it. However, he said there are exceptions to the rule, such as if national security is compromised.
The PCOO official, meanwhile, said the government is working its way towards 100 percent compliance to any FOI requests.
To date, 98 percent of national government offices are already accessible online.
On July 23, 2016, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Executive Order No. 2, also known as the Freedom of Information (FOI) Executive Order. It upholds the constitutional right of people to information on matters of public concern.
The EO covers all government offices under the Executive Branch including government-owned-or controlled corporations (GOCCs) and state universities and colleges.
It requires all executive departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices to make public records, contracts, transactions, and any information requested by a member of the public, except for sensitive information and matters affecting national security. (PNA)
Photo by Richard Madelo/PCOO/Inquirer