The public’s call for the right to information is a reminder for the government to promote good governance through transparency, accountability, and citizen participation.
This falls under the principle that informed and critical citizens and an open government are indispensable components of a democratic society.
Recognising the importance of this universal right, the United Nations included the citizens’ access to information in its Sustainable Development Goals under Goal 16, Target 10.
As reported, the Philippines is one of 116 countries that adopted a Freedom of Information (FOI) policy.
Freedom of Information
Executive Order (EO) No. 2, series of 2016, known as the FOI Program, is a landmark policy that upholds the constitutional right of the people to information on matters of public concern.
Executive Order No. 2, s. 2016 mandates all executive departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices to make public any records, contracts, transactions and information requested by a public individual except for confidential and sensitive information.
The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) leads the implementation of the FOI Program.
In its aim to engage citizens through requests for information, the Agency diversified its strategies to make its services more available and accessible to ordinary citizens.
Digitalisation is the key
They capitalised on the increasing access of the Filipinos to digital gadgets and the internet via the electronic FOI portal.
The eFOI portal provides the public a digital platform where they can browse, access, and request government records, documents, and information.
To date, there are more than 12,800 FOI requests available for viewing in the eFOI portal. The requests come from 4,157 registered eFOI portal users, most of which are members of the academe.
This includes teachers and students, whose primary purpose form making requests is for their research, school theses, and reports.
The portal is currently working with 366 government agencies and the numbers are continuously growing.
The increasing number of agencies going on-board indicates the government’s commitment to facilitate free flow of information in this digital age.
Additionally, the portal drives the government to be transparent in its processes and transactions that create a mutual cycle benefiting both the demand of the public to access and consume information; and the government’s supply and disclosure of relevant information, records, and documents.
This system of beneficial exchange of knowledge and information demonstrates a democratic collaboration of citizens and its government leading the way to an engaged citizenry.
Despite all these, institutionalising FOI remains to be a challenge. It takes a great deal of behavioural change over time, and across different sectors of the society, to imbibe the culture of asking and providing information.
Moreover, the current FOI policy only covers the Executive Branch. This policy gap highlights the need for the Congress to pass the Freedom of Information law that will compel all of government to full disclosure, transparency, and accountability in the public service.