In a press conference in Davao City on Sunday morning, July 24, Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Martin Andanar announced that President Rodrigo Duterte had signed an executive order (EO) on the Freedom of Information (FOI).
GMA News reports that the EO was actually finalized and signed Saturday night, July 23, after discussions with Presidential Legal Counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and Undersecretary Jesus Quitain.
Andanar recalled that the late senator Raul Roco submitted the first resolution for the FOI—House Bill 498 or the Right to Information Bill—in 1987. At that time, Roco was the congressman of Camarines Sur's 2nd District.
That said, below is a quickie cheat sheet on the FOI's commandments, how its mechanisms are implemented, and what it can do for the public:
1. Who's covered? All government offices under the executive branch should enable every Filipino access to information, official records, and other public documents. By "executive branch," it means the national government and all its offices, departments, bureaus, offices, and instrumentalities, including government-owned or -controlled corporations, as well as state universities and colleges. Local government units are also encouraged to observe and be guided by the order.
2. Who's entitled? All Filipinos should 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.
3. How does it work? Any person who requests for information only needs to write to the duly authorized personnel assigned by the head of the government agency. The head of the agency shall review the letter, and if there are no issues about the request, then the person assigned should come up with the information within 15 days.
4. How much does it cost? Requests for access to information are free of charge. However, the agency concerned may require the person who made the request to reimburse necessary costs, such as money spent for the reproduction and copying of the information requested.
5. What else should be out in the open? Public officials are mandated to make available their statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) for public scrutiny.
6. Who answers our questions? Any question on the legality of the information requested will be forwarded to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to ensure it does not violate any laws.
7. What happens to violators? Any public official who fails to release the information upon compliance of the requestor will face administrative and disciplinary sanctions under existing laws or regulations.
However, access to information can be denied when the data falls under any of the exemptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing laws, or jurisprudence. This includes information that may threaten national security.
As such, the DOJ and the OSG have been tasked to submit an inventory of exemptions to the Office of the President (OP) within 30 calendar days. They are likewise also tasked to update the list of exemptions when the need arises in accordance with existing law and jurisprudence.