Section 7. The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.
The Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines guarantees access to information on matters of public concern.
Thus, in response to the clamor for enactment of an enabling law, Congress having dragged its feet on several proposals, then President Duterte issued Executive Order No. 2, Series of 2016, providing guidelines for requesting and releasing information from offices under the executive branch.
However, instead of confining access to certain types of information like those concerning national security and personal information, the FOI program has made access more difficult for the public, including journalists.
One has to file an FOI request, stating the information requested and the reason for the request, and then wait a maximum of 15 days for the government agency to either approve or deny the request.
Last week saw another concrete example of how the Duterte FOI program deprives the public of access to information vital to public discourse.
In his reply to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan declining its invitation to attend its Feb. 13, 2023 session to shed light on the transfer of P2.1 billion in infrastructure projects from the Catanduanes DEO to the DPWH regional office, District Engineer Edy Ferdinand Joven told the honorable members of the board that he does not need to appear before the body as whatever information it wanted could be secured via an FOI request it should file with his Office.
Apparently, the district engineer, who left his Camarines Sur district office hoping to find a more comfortable post in the island, is not aware that his advice that to the SP is downright insulting.
To ask the honorable representatives to file the request and wait for 15 days for the information requested is a slap on the face of the SP, especially as it is aware of the need to act speedily in the issue considering its adverse economic impacts.
DE Joven is expected to enlighten the board on the real reason for the transfer of the P2.1-B infra funding and who ordered him to do so, as well as clarify why the projects of a partylist group were not included in the fund transfer.
His assurance that “the courses of action adopted by this district office are arrived at according to its best lights” is not enough.
He had to justify why the Catanduanes DEO will have to lay off technical personnel for lack of projects and why the people of the island will be deprived of employment, taxes and indirect benefits of locally implemented projects.
Is he deliberately delaying the release of the information by at least 15 days to enable the DPWH regional office to bid out the transferred projects according to the wishes of Congressman Eulogio Rodriguez?
Assuming that DE Joven will no longer appear before the SP, will its honorable members call on whoever is acting DE in Joven’s absence to answer the same questions?
Will the Catanduanes DEO caretaker be courageous enough to set foot in the Legislative Building or will he also shut his mouth on the matter?
While the people cannot expect the board to literally drag DE Joven or whoever is acting on his behalf to the session hall due to the SP’s lack of police power, the provincial board should do everything in its power to convince the DPWH regional, if not the central office, to return the funding and implementation of the P2.1-B to the district office.
The same thing should be asked of Governor Joseph Cua, who along with the SP, is obliged under the law to perform such powers and functions for the general welfare of the public.
There is no need to remind them that time is running out…