FOI to take effect on Nov 25: What you need to know

MANILA, Philippines – The public can start requesting for government documents and records in the executive branch as the Freedom of Information (FOI) Executive Order takes effect on Friday, November 25.

In an open data workshop, Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Kristian Ablan detailed what the public can expect when the service rolls out on Friday.

Interested citizens can obtain official records by accomplishing forms or visiting the eFOI portal at foi.gov.ph.

On July 23, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the landmark Executive Order No. 2, giving the public access to government documents and records in the executive branch.

Under EO No. 2, each government agency should be able to come up with its own manuals which will serve as a guide on what the public can request and how.

Two days away from the launch, Ablan said they created a model People's FOI manual for agencies that are yet to finish their guides. The manuals should be available for download online by Friday.

Planning to request for data? Here's what you need to know:

Filing requests

The public can either go straight to the agency or do it online.

Straight to the agency

All you need to do is to accomplish the FOI Request Form and submit it to the agency concerned. The form can also be downloaded from the eFOI portal.

Online via foi.gov.ph

According to Ablan, they want to save time attending to similar requests so they put up the FOI portal in such a way that data posted by the agencies are easily browsed or searched by concerned citizens.

When you visit foi.gov.ph, here's what you will find:

As of the moment, requests for data are limited to a few number of executive departments (see below) and their attached agencies, as others have cited budgetary constraints and the need for improved capacity to roll out online data by Friday.

Ablan also reminds the public that only queries for the national offices will be entertained as local field offices are not yet included in the November 25 roll out.

"Hopefully 2nd quarter of 2017, we will be able to have a wider implementation of the EO FOI," he said.

Processing time

The executive order says that the concerned agency or office should be able to respond to requests within 15 working days.

If the request requires extensive search of government records, this could be extended for another 20 working days at most, provided that the individual is notified of the extension.

Requests denied can be appealed by the individual to the office or person next higher in authority by writing a written appeal within 15 working days since the notice of denial was issued. The receiving office should be able to respond within 30 working days.

Exceptions, grounds of denial

According to Ablan, requests that contain incomplete information or are already available online for download will no longer be entertained. 

The rest will have to go through the decision-making process of those in authority to release requested documents and records.

Ablan clarified that the 166 restrictions outlined in the draft manual will be reduced to about 11. He said that Right to Know, Right Now Coalition's set of exceptions will most likely be adopted. Here are the categories with exceptions:

As of the moment, the final list of restrictions are yet to be signed. Ablan gave assurances that the list should be ready by Friday.

ARTA vs FOI

Ablan said that the public should not confuse FOI requests with Anti-Red Tape Act (ARTA) requests.

Under the ARTA, requests must be responded to by the concerned agency or officer within 5 working days, extendable to 10 working days at most. This provision is days shorter than what is prescribed in the FOI EO.

Ablan said that agencies should be able to distinguish an ARTA from an FOI request. "If it deals with the day-to-day ordinary course of the agencies, then the period is 5 days. If you are requesting for a data set on male births over the years, that should be an FOI request."

The first FOI bill was filed in 1992 by then Pangasinan first district representative Oscar Orbos. It's the first time in 24 years that the Philippine government is seeing the implementation of the FOI EO.

"Hopefully, the passage [of the Freedom of Information Executive Order] will pressure our legislators to pass the FOI Act as soon as possible," Ablan said.

Several lawmakers have refiled their version of the FOI in the 17th Congress. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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