Were Filipino systems ready for Freedom of info? Queries rejected due to minor procedural errors. An endless debate: Success or failure ?

Freedom: Failure or success ?



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In the quest for good governance, President Duterte had signed an Executive Order on July 23, 2016. It promised to provide all Filipinos the right to obtain information about any aspect of working.
Thus, the Duterte administration adopted a policy of full public disclosure and transparency in public service. It is one of the policies of fair and just governance that governments proudly claim.
However, the Duterte administration kept the local governments, judiciary and legislature out of its purview.
There was acclaim from all over when President Duterte signed the Executive Order within a month of taking over.
Lauded as a wise move it seems that it was a bit hasty and optimistic. Thus, extending this Freedom of Information (FOI) appears now like putting the cart before the horse.
There is so much lawlessness even with all that transpired in the past year that routine legislations would never succeed.
There was room only for tough measures under the tough conditions prevailing. Therefore, a legislation meant to promote accountability in government departments was introduced.
In addition, the guidelines for requesting and releasing information from offices under the executive branch were laid down.
Amendments followed and penalties were spelt out for non-compliance by government departments concerned.
Congress, LGUs not covered
While the legislature, judiciary and even local government units (LGUs), were not covered, they were exhorted to follow the EO.
However, Kris Ablan, Secretary,Assistant Presidential Communications, who oversees the implementation of the FOI policy, differed.
He rated FOI as a success in spite of the rejection of more than half the requests by the people. Thus, FOI was a failure due to a difference in perception between the government and the public.
It wasn’t as if the queries fell under the exempt categories; the public addressed most of the queries to the wrong departments Ablan stated.
By rejecting the queries for such a fickle reason, the government departments displayed insincerity.
Why couldn’t they establish a system of sorting? Perhaps, the higher ups realized the futility of the Freedom of Information. I am surprised at this attitude of escapism.
Ablan declared the FOI as successful on the basis of only the successful queries.

Failure or success ?

Ablan did acknowledge that the FOI executive policy had “unintended consequences” but he evaded taking responsibility for their failure. The next step would be forwarding the queries to the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO. Here, corrective measures would be suggested, he said.
Experts opine that getting information was much easier in most cases prior to the introduction of FOI.

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Umrao Singh
Written for: Lars-Magnus Carlsson.
Monday, June 26, 2017