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President signs FoI order

The elusive Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is now enacted into law as President Rodrido Roa Duterte, true to his words, finally certified it on Saturday, July 23. Witnessing the signing are Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence Go, Presidential Communication Secretary Martin Andanar and Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella. SIMEON CELI/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS DIVISIONThe public can finally gain greater access to government documents, including the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth of government officials, after President Duterte signed the historic order on freedom on information as promised.

The new executive order, covering all government agencies under the Executive branch, aims to enhance transparency and accountability in government transactions and decisions, according to Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Martin Andanar.

The government, however, will deny public access to information related to national security and others included in the “inventory of exceptions,” Andanar announced during a press conference in Davao City yesterday.

The new EO, entitled “Operationalizing in the executive branch the people’s constitutional right to information and the state policies of full public disclosure and transparency in the public service and providing guidelines therefor,” was signed by the President in Davao City last Saturday night.

The new EO, which still had no official number, was announced to the public by Andanar on the eve of the President’s State-of-the-Nation Address. It will be released officially with stamps and seal of the President today.

“Every Filipino shall 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,” the order read.

The new EO defines information as “any records, documents, papers, reports, letters, contracts, minutes, and transcripts of officials meetings, maps, books, photographs, data, research materials, films, sound and video recording, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data, computer stored data or any other like or similar data or material recorded, stored or archived in whatever format” which are in custody of any government office.

Official record or records shall refer to information produced or received by a public officer or employee or by a government office in an official capacity or pursuant to a public function or duty.

Public record or records are information required by laws, executive orders, rules, or regulations to be entered, kept and made publicly available by a government office.

The President’s new EO also “reminded” all public officials of their obligation to file and make available for scrutiny their SALN in accordance with the law.

No request for information shall be denied unless it falls under the “inventory of exceptions,” according to Andanar.

Andanar said the Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General have been directed to prepare an “inventory of exceptions” and submit it to the Office of the President within a month. The two bodies will also regularly update such inventory of exceptions as the need arises.

Asked about the kind of information exempted from public release, Andanar said: “On the top of mind, any information that puts our government in danger in terms of national security.” (Genalyn D. Kabiling)

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