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Duterte signs order on Freedom of Information for executive branch

Fulfilling one of his campaign pledges, President Rodrigo Duterte this Sunday morning signed an executive order (EO) paving the way for Freedom of Information covering the executive branch. The EO was finalized just a day before Duterte is scheduled to give his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Speaking to reporters in Davao City, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar explained that the EO covers all government offices under the executive branch, including government corporations and state universities.

“No request for information shall be denied,” Andanar said, adding that President Duterte wants to make public documents and records more available to citizens to promote transparency in the government.

duterte EO freedom of information

President Duterte signed an executive order paving the way for easy access of official documents from the executive branch (Facebook page of Presidential Communications Office)

According to the EO, any person who requests access to information shall submit a written request to the government office. The letter should mention the following:

1) The name and contact information of the requesting party
2) Valid proof of his or her identification or authorization
3) Details about the information requested
4) The purpose of the request for information.
The EO mandates the public official receiving the request to provide reasonable assistance, free of charge. Duterte’s move is unprecedented because for almost three decades now, attempts at passing a freedom of information law has consistently failed at the legislature.

Article III, section 7 of the 1987 Constitution provides that the state should recognize “the right of the people to information on matters of public concern.”

“Access to official 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, shall be afforded the citizen,” the provision further elucidates. This is in line with a 1946 declaration by the United Nations that freedom of information “is a fundamental human right” and that it is “an essential factor in promoting peace and progress in the world.”

COMMENTARY: Duterte’s bold move as regards this is highly laudable. As mentioned in the post, five presidents in the past three decades have accomplished nothing as regards this. However, executive action is still no substitute to having an FOI law for two reasons.

Number one, an executive order only covers the executive branch. And second, it can easily be reversed by Duterte’s successors. Nevertheless, make no mistake – this is a good first step toward promoting government transparency.

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