By Roi Lomotan
DUMAGUETE CITY (PIA) — The Freedom of Information (FOI) is not only intended for members of the media, but Filipino families can also benefit from it.
Michelle Arianne Manza of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) said Filipino families can utilize FOI for various reasons.
“The question thrown to us before was what is FOI? Is this something we can eat? Well of course you can. You can eat it in a way because information is something you can consume. It gives you the right tools for you to decide especially on important information,” Manza said.
Manza also added that FOI has been known to be used when deciding on regular problems. “Where can we relocate our families? What school will I choose for my kids? Which school provides quality education for my children? These are some of the information we can get from the government.”
President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 2 mandating all offices under the Executive Branch of the government to implement Freedom of Information was one of the main topics discussed in the recently held Ugnayan Dialogue for Progress event in Dumaguete City.
Manza tackled the process of obtaining information from government offices under the Executive Branch.
However, she mentioned that agencies under the Legislative and Judiciary are not covered by the FOI.
Still, through FOI, the public can have access to records, statistics, archives and documents from different government agencies.
“When PCOO was mandated to implement the FOI program we drafted the agency People’s FOI manual and the agency FOI manual. The agency FOI Manual is for agencies. It serves as guide for implementing the FOI. On the other hand the People’s FOI Manual is for every Juan Dela Cruz. What if they have an inquiry to DENR? They will follow the (people’s) FOI Manual,” Manza said.
For those who want to make an FOI request, a set of procedures must be followed:
1. Applicant must fill out the FOI request form. The form can be downloaded at www.foi.gov.ph. The form asks for the name, address, contact details, and the preferred mode of communication of the requesting person. It also asks how the requesting party would like receive the information (e-mail, personal appearance to the agency, snail mail). Manza noted that requesting persons must bring along a valid identification when submitting their FOI request to the concerned government agency. She also added that a valid ID is important especially in dealing with sensitive personal information.
2. The requesting party will submit the FOI request to the receiving officer of the concerned government agency.
3. The receiving officer will forward the request to the internal decision maker of the agency. The decision maker will determine if the information which the requesting party wants to obtain is very sensitive to be released. In that case, the agency can deny the release of the said information.
Manza noted that information cannot be disclosed if it is covered by Executive Privilege, related to national security, defense or international relations, law enforcement and protection of public and personal safety, confidential Information for the protection of privacy of persons, confidential Information by reason of official capacity, prejudicial premature disclosures, records of proceedings, confidential information under banking and finance laws, and other exceptions under laws, jurisprudence, and implementing rules and regulations.
4. Once the decision maker approves the release of information, it will be returned to the receiving officer and the receiving officer will deliver the information to the requesting party. Government offices have 15 days maximum to respond to a FOI request.
If in case the requesting party was not satisfied on how the agency handled the FOI request, that person can apply for an appeal.
On the other hand, requesting parties can also apply for an FOI request online.
Individuals must log in to www.foi.gov.ph or the eFOI portal and they can browse information they need from government agencies.
As of now, there are 65 national government agencies and government owned and controlled corporations linked with eFOI portal.
Manza said the government is moving towards pro-active disclosure and it continues to enhance mechanisms that would make as much government documents public and to reduce the burden on public administration of having to process requests for information.
“Ang ibig sabihin noon (pro-active disclosure) ay bago pa hingin na ang impormasyon ay ilalabas na natin. Saa paanong paraan? Sa media, sa social media, sa website ng agency at sa iba’t ibang portals na pwedeng pagkuhanan ng impormasyon. Ang pinaka-prinsipiyo talaga niyan ay ilabas na bago pa hingin ng mamamayan. (What we mean there is that we have already released the information before an individual would ask for it. It can be through media, social media, websites of different agencies and web portals where people can visit to obtain information),” she said.
Aside from the eFOI portal, data.gov.ph is also a website where the public can access government information.
“In a nutshell, the FOI program is composed of open data which is proactive disclosure and the FOI, which involves engagement with people. Open data releases (information) from government agencies while FOI asks the public: Ano ang kailangan mo sa gobyerno? Anong impormasyon iyong importante sa iyo?” Manza elaborated.
Through these mechanisms, Manza hopes that people will be able to consume and utilize the information they can get from government to improve their lives as she emphasized.
“We all have equal rights when it comes to getting information from the government.” (ral/PIA7-Negros Oriental)