MANILA - It's time to have an all-encompassing Freedom of Information (FOI) mechanism in the Philippines, a Palace official said Thursday as he renewed his call for Congress to pass a FOI Bill before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends.
In a prerecorded video message during the FOI Awards, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar urged lawmakers to prioritize the passage of the FOI Bill, which mandates full disclosure of official public records from offices under the Executive Branch.
"On behalf of PCOO, I am one with the FOI-[Project Management Office] in pushing for the passage of the FOI Bill. We owe it to the Filipino people to have an all-encompassing FOI mechanism in the country. I appeal to our lawmakers to double the time and effort in making the change happen before the end of this administration," Andanar said.
He said is hoping that FOI will be implemented across all branches of government and down to the local government units (LGUs).
"Our desire for development requires transparency and accountability; and this is no one man's job. The fulfillment of our vision requires cooperation and collective action. Ergo, no efforts and not a single dime shall be put in vain when it is for the benefit of our countrymen," he added.
Executive Order No. 2, Series of 2016 or the FOI Program was signed by Duterte on July 23, 2016, days after he assumed office
However, the EO does not cover the legislature, judiciary and LGUs although it encourages them to observe the order.
During his final State-of-the-Nation Address on July 26, Duterte said he signed the bill early in his presidency to promote transparency and accountability in the government, including his office.
Rising to the challenge
Andanar said the fifth year of the implementation of the FOI rose to the challenge brought by the Covid-19 pandemic and reaped achievements in pushing for transparency and accountability in the government.
"As a leading agency for the operationalization of the FOI Program, the PCOO, through the FOI Project Management Office, has made every effort to reach Filipinos at the national level, provincial level, and even down to every barangay to inform them of their right to information and keep them on board with the plans, targets, and actions that our President has laid out for the nation," he said.
Andanar noted that the PCOO played a critical role in information dissemination through its projects, capacity-building activities, webinars, social media engagements, as well as TV and radio programs.
"Our accomplishments for this year could not be achieved without the significant contributions and kind cooperation from our partners and FOI implementers across the agencies under the Executive Branch," he added.
Meanwhile, he thanked FOI champions, decision-makers, receiving officers, and civil society organizations, government, and non-government partners for their support in ensuring public service delivery, especially during the prevailing health crisis.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has posed great risks to our countrymen and is a serious challenge to government operations. One of the many messages this crisis has conveyed is that information plays a crucial role in effective governance and ensuring public welfare. Hence, our countrymen, as much as possible, without demand, should be provided with timely and relevant information," he said.
Matters of public concern
In a separate video message, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles congratulated nominees and winners at the FOI Awards and reminded them to advance good governance and prioritize the welfare of the people, especially during the pandemic.
"Sa mga ahensya na makatatanggap ng pagkilala sa FOI Awards na ito, ang aking taos pusong paghanga at pagbati sa inyong pagseserbisyo. Higit sa parangal, mahalaga na maipakita sa ating mga kababayan na tuloy ang good governance, may pandemya man o wala (To the agencies that will receive recognition at the FOI Awards, my sincere admiration and gratitude for your service. More than awards, it is important to show our countrymen that good governance will continue, whether there is a pandemic or not)," Nograles said.
He also recognized the PCOO's FOI-PMO for their dedication in pushing for efforts to fulfill one of Duterte's campaign promises.
Nograles said a reflection of good governance in the country is the availability and accessibility of vital public information that empowers people to perform their responsibility as safeguards of various government institutions.
"This allows citizens to be knowledgeable in the affairs of state and to be involved in governance decisions that the nation makes to bring about inclusive, socio-economic development to uplift the lives of all," he said.
The implementation of FOI in the country, he said, demonstrates how the government has been "creating and enforcing policies, managing its affairs, carrying out its programs and public service delivery, maximizing its limited resources for the benefit of the citizenry."
"Sa pamamagitan ng pagbibigay kaalaman sa mga gawain ng mga ahensya ng pamahalaan, nagkakaroon ng kamalayan ang bawat Pilipino upang makilahok sa mga adhikain ng bansa. Ito din ay nagbibigay daan para matutunan ng mas marami nating kababayan ang mga proseso at mekanismo para mabigyan ng sapat at napapanahong serbisyo publiko ang lahat (By providing information on the activities of government agencies, every Filipino is given a chance to participate in the country's aspirations. It also allows more of our countrymen to learn the processes and mechanisms to provide adequate and timely public services to all)," he added.
The FOI Awards is an annual event that aims to recognize the remarkable contributions to the FOI Program of government offices in the executive branch, including government-owned and controlled corporations, state universities and colleges, and local water districts, in promoting open, transparent, and accountable governance. (PNA)