I just finished reading through the statements and documents of the Right to Know, Right Now Coalition’s (R2KRN) assessment on the government’s Freedom of Information (FOI) administration. In a pivotal move and to fulfill a campaign promise President Duterte issued Executive Order No. 2 last July 23,2016 — which is a decree on Freedom of Information. What it basically is an order that instructs the different departments of the executive to give information when it is requested. The executive order covered the creation of an FOI manual, which includes among other things a list of exemptions and a manual of procedures .
R2KRN coalition supported this move by the Duterte government and said it was a signal of the Duterte Government’s commitment to respect and promote the citizen’s right to access information in the Executive Branch. The coalition then embarked on a critical collaboration with the Duterte government on FOI through FOI practice project and last week they released their assessment and recommendation on the FOIA for the government.
Freedom of Information Administration (FOIA) of the Duterte Government
The R2KRN assessment could be summarized in their own words, “ Our analysis of data in the eFOI Portal that for now hosts 64 agencies, out of 503 requests posted online as of March 14, 2017, up to 183 requests had been denied, 166 granted, and 154 more ‘pending or for processing.’”
The performances of the different department were mixed:
First, Some offices failed to comply with the clear directive and deadline to provide an FOI Manual and identify the responsible officers in the FOI chain;
Second. Some others did not even acknowledge requests sent via email or fax, nor even answer phone calls…
Third, There were agency FOI Manuals that enrolled additional grounds for denial that have no basis in the Constitution, the statutes or jurisprudence.
Fourth, It took some agencies weeks and months on end to respond to requests, or well beyond the 15 working days deadline that the laws and EO No. 2 had imposed
Fifth, There were also offices that took to heart compliance with the letter and spirit of EO No.While only a minority of the offices were compliant to EO No. 2 they deserve the highest commendation.
Sixth, These agencies promptly and professionally acknowledged letter requests, answered queries, and responded to requests sans the need for multiple follow-ups.
Seventh, One take-away from the FOI Practice projects is If public officials and agencies mean to do it, appreciate and understand just how important it is to them as much as to citizens, FOI is a good, easy goal to achieve.
R2NRN summed the assessment of the Duterte FOIA as, “… It too early for the Duterte Administration to claim its FOI project as a feather in its cap. It would be more propitious to say though that it has taken the first, major steps to lay the foundation for a regime of transparency through EO No. 2, the People’s FOI Manuals of executive offices, and its eFOI Portal.”
R2KRN further said that much work needs to be done by the citizen and its government. One common task is the passage of the FOI Law.
Is there a need for a FOI professional?
From a librarian and an information specialist point of view, FOIA is basically a reference service — providing information and answers to questions and requests by a library patron or in our case a Filipino citizen.
Information or to be more specific government information is a whole universe of documents that needs to be collected, described, organized, tagged and preserved in order that it can be efficiently retrieved . At present each agency and FOI the Duterte government deemed it best that each unit have their own. It is in the short term the most practical but in the long term there needs to a consistent management or in other words an Information Professional/Librarian.
In more practical terms there should be an Information Management team for document records.
What would be their job and duties?
The Information Management Team or IMT per agency would be manage the collection of documents and data for each agency. Making sure that these documents are preserved, organized and made available when needed by the agency or by any citizen of the republic when needed.
Specifically this would include but not limited to the following:
First, Collect and collate all document, media, and information of the agency and the department.
Second. Describe and tag all document, media, and information of the agency and the department.
Third, Develop and maintain a collection index terms or thesaurus that will be used to describe and tag all document, media, and information of the agency and the department.
Fourth, Preserve and maintain all document, media, and information of the agency and the department.
Fifth, Part of theirtheir job would be to make sure all document, media, and information of the agency and the department follow the Data Privacy laws of the country.
Sixth, The IMT aside from organizing, classifying and preserving all document, media, and information of the agency and the department. Has as one of its main task is to provide and produce information upon request.
Seventh, The IMT should be responsible for making their service available to all citizens using all forms of communications digital and others.
Conclusions and Recommendations
I would agree with R2KRN assessment that indeed the Duterte Government has essentially started well with Executive Order No. 2. However, the job is not yet over and there is a need to have a law passed on legislation and at the same time improve, rationalize and institutionalized FOI and FOI management in the government. In this regard FOI management needs to be managed effectively throughout the government. One way to do this is establish and institutionalize an Information Management Team. Another important thing would be to rationalize, make uniform and unit all FOI management practices in government.
FOI PRACTICE PROJECTS OF 6 CSOS
Slow & quick action, open & opaque agencies
By The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition and The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. PCIJ.org. Date Accessed: March 24. 2017 — http://pcij.org/stories/slow-quick-action-open-opaque-agencies/
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).