Taagbilaran City—The Freedom of Information-Project Management Office under the Presidential Communications Operations Office has commended the Province of Bohol for being the first in coming up with an FOI ordinance in the region.
Gov. Edgar Chatto said Sunday he received last week a letter, dated Aug. 13, from Policy and Special Concerns assistant secretary and FOI-PMO director Kristian Ablan, commending the Province of Bohol for pioneering the FOI ordinance in the Visayas.
“On behalf of the National FOI Program, let me congratulate the Province of Bohol on its achievement as the pioneer province in the Visayas to have an FOI Ordinance,” Ablan said in his letter.
Ablan added that the FOI-PMO thanks Bohol for the “efforts and dedication in localizing the FOI. This milestone is a step forward towards the FOI program’s vision for a more transparent nation.”
For this, the FOI-PMO “assures the provincial government of Bohol of its commitment in providing constant guidance on this venture.”
“We are of service in providing assistance in the implementation of the FOI program. If you have concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the FOI-PMO,” Ablan said.
“The Province of Bohol can now provide convenience in providing information and official records to the people of Bohol. Through the FOI program, Boholanos are now empowered to participate and be involved with affairs concerning their provincial government,” Ablan added.
Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Tomas Abapo Jr. sponsored the passage of the Bohol Freedom of Information Ordinance, which Chatto signed last July 31. The co-sponsors of the ordinance were SP members Ricky Masamayor and Venzencio Arcamo.
Abapo pushed for the provincial ordinance considering that the executive order on FOI issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on July 23, 2016 is limited in scope to government offices under the executive branch.
Abapo explained that Duterte’s EO on FOI merely encourages local government units to observe and be guided accordingly.
When he proposed the provincial ordinance, Abapo said “recognizing the importance of the people’s right to government information, and guided by the President’s Executive Order, the provincial government deems it necessary to provide a local mechanism for its offices where the people’s right to information is respected and upheld.”
The ordinance, which covers all government offices under the provincial government, is, however, subject to exceptions provided by law and jurisprudence.
Section 4 of the ordinance, which is on Access to Information, provides that “every Filipino shall have access to information, official records, public records and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as government research data used as basis for police development, in the custody of the provincial government of Bohol or any of its offices, subject to pertinent laws, ordinances, rules and regulations.”
Section 5 provides for the exceptions, stating that “Freedom of Information (FOI) shall be denied when the information falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law, or jurisprudence.”
It also states that in line with this, “the provincial legal officer is directed to prepare a local inventory of FOI exceptions and submit the same to the Governor, who shall, in turn, endorse the same to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan within 30 calendar days from the date of effectivity for its approval.”
The SP secretary shall then “cause the publication of the local inventory of FOI exceptions for the guidance of all government offices covered by this ordinance.”
The local inventory of FOI exceptions shall be periodically updated by the Provincial Legal Officer and the SP.
The ordinance also provides for the availability of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN), reminding all public officials of the Provincial Government of Bohol of their obligation to file and make available for scrutiny their SALN “in accordance with existing laws, rules and regulations, and spirit and letter of this ordinance.”
Section 7 provides that “no request for information shall be denied unless it clearly falls under any of the exceptions in the inventory of FOI exceptions.”