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In Pasig, a local push for FOI

/ 06:05 AM July 13, 2018

If approved, a proposed ordinance in Pasig City may serve as a model for a localized version of the freedom of information (FOI) bill, which has been languishing in Congress for around three decades.

The draft ordinance calls for more transparency in local governance, especially with regards to the disclosure of financial records, contracts and other public documents.

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Filed by Councilor Vico Sotto in June, the proposed measure was passed on first reading on July 5 and referred to the city council’s committee on information.

Sotto noted that despite Pasig’s annual budget reaching P10 billion, many taxpayers remained unaware of where their money was being spent. “Generally speaking, local governments are not transparent,” he said in an interview. “If the money is being used wisely, then there is nothing to hide.”

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Right to access

Under the draft ordinance, citizens can assert their right to access, examine and copy public records from the city government through a formal request. They are not required to reveal their personal information or state the reason for the request. Anonymous requests are therefore allowed and should get a response.

The city government is given 10 working days to act on requests. The processing of requests should be completely free of charge, but the city government may charge a minimal fee for certification and if the documents would be printed or photocopied.

Automatic disclosure

Government officials and employees who fail to comply face a reprimand on the first offense; suspension for five to 30 days on a second offense, and dismissal from service on a third.

But even in the absence of a request, the city government will be required to automatically disclose certain public records within 20 days of their approval. These include budget reports, procurement plans, financial statements and bidding documents, among others.

These records should also be shown in a conspicuous place at the city hall and posted on the local government’s official website.

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In 1987, then Rep. Raul Roco filed the first right of information bill through House Bill No. 498. Over 10 FOI bills have been filed since then.

In 2008, the House approved an FOI legislation, HB No. 3732, while the Senate approved its own version the following year.

The bicameral conference reconciled conflicting provisions in the two FOI bills in January 2010. The Senate approved FOI bill the month later, but the House failed to do so due to lack of quorum.

In July 2016, President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 2, which provided for access to information in government offices, but only under the executive branch. Under the EO, local governments are just “encouraged to observe and be guided” by the order. —WITH INQUIRER RESEARCH

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