July 28, 2016 · Posted in: General

Breathing Life to People’s FOI

28 July 2016

With the signing of the Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) last July 23, 2016, the decades-long fight for a Philippine FOI law has been breathed life anew. Even as it reminds that it does not take the place of an FOI statute, the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition (“R2KRN”) believes that the EO is definitely a landmark step for the country in its quest for institutionalized transparency and culture of accountability and informed citizen’s participation.

The EO on FOI, consisting of 19 sections, provides a clear and unequivocal directive to all public officers and employees of the Executive Department to respect and fully operationalize the right of every Filipino to have access to information in their custody, subject only to already EXISTING exceptions under the constitution, law or jurisprdence. It also encourages the LGUs, through its power of general suprevision, to likewise observe and be guided by the EO.

The biggest contribution of the EO to the operationalization of FOI is in spelling out for the Executive branch HOW this will be done. The EO lays down basic standards and procedure in requesting, processing and giving access to information. Every government office is directed to prepare a People’s FOI Manual embodying such procedure, observing the timelines and standards for government action provided by the EO.

The Coalition is aware that by the nature of it being an EO, it is limited in its application to the Executive Department. This notwithstanding, the EO represents a major progressive leap on transparency (contrary to the negativist and misleading assertions by some quarters that the EO is “toothless”).

For one, the executive is the biggest branch of government, responsible for the greatest scope of official acts, transactions, decisions, and policy development that affect the lives of every Filipino. For another, experience from our FOI practice shows that one of the biggest hurdles in accessing information is the absence of uniform, speedy and mandated procedure for access, which the EO addresses. This aspect in fact already constitutes a large portion of what the FOI bills want to achieve. We also appreciate the refreshing and decisive leadership under the present administration to deliver on a stated promise to the people.

The EO is a work in progress, and the coalition commits to continue to work with the Duterte administration on the critical next steps. The first is to ensure that the inventory prepared by the DOJ and the Office of the Solicitor General is faithful to existing law and jurisprudence, and in line with the right to information. The second is to actively engage implementation, both in terms of the implementing rules and actual practice. The third is to push for the review of the outdated information classification guidelines embodied in Memorandum Circular No. 78 mentioned in the repealing clause of the EO. The fourth is the adoption by the LGUs and Constitutional bodies of similar administrative procedures to govern their respective offices.

While the EO is definitely a welcome development in the people’s struggle for our right to access information as enshrined in the constitution, we challenge Congress to prove itself equally responsive by finally overcoming their resistance to FOI and enact a progressive FOI law. An FOI law will be a positive addition to the EO in respect to the following: (1) expanding the coverage of FOI standards beyond the executive department; (2) reviewing the exceptions to limit them to only what are reasonable and necessary; (3) introducing criminal liability where appropriate; and (4) affording further institutionalization given the greater stability of an Act of Congress. In this regard, the coalition will be refiling an FOI bill in Congress through Indirect Initiative, and invites organizations and individuals to join its campaign for the passage of an equally progressive People’s FOI Law in the coming months.

While the EO is a welcome development in the people’s struggle for our constitutional right to information, the Coalition emphasizes that ultimately, it will be the FOI practice of both citizens and government that will be key. The Coaltion calls on the public to engage in FOI practice at all levels, and use the constitutional right to information, the EO on FOI, and the FOI law should one be enacted, as instruments to effect positive change in policy and development.


28 July 2016

Atty. Eirene Jhone E. Aguila, Co-convenor
0919 999 4578

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