MANILA -- It has been more than a year since the Executive Order (EO) No. 2 or the Right to Information was signed. The Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, on the other hand, is yet to be passed. How do Filipinos, government agencies see the FOI and the Right to Information?

It may be recalled that on July 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte signed EO No. 2, "Operationalizing in the Executive Branch of the People's Constitutional Right to Information and the State Policies to Full Public Disclosure and Transparency in the Public Service and Providing Guidelines Therefor".

The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and the "Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition" (R2KRN) organized a workshop on Wednesday to shed some light on FOI, and also to air some concerns with regard to its status and application. It was attended by representatives from various government agencies. 

The public, for instance, has the right to request/see a government official's SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth). But up to what extent must be revealed to the public? How can we know if we're not violating the Right to Privacy or the Data Privacy Act?

According to PCOO Assistant Secretary Kristian Ablan, this is the major concern among officers when issuing SALNs and Personal Data Sheets.

There is a need to convene all the seven SALN repository agencies in the country, he said.

Majority of these agencies, he said, do redact the names of unmarried minor children and the address of the official. How about the others?

This is why, he said, the PCO has asked National Privacy Commissioner Raymond Liboro to set guidelines on this. 

Ablan said that for now, the interpretation on what should be done was left to the discretion of each of the agency's legal department. "Their interpretation varies," he cited during the workshop.

Another instance he cited is when the SALN declarant voluntarily reveals his/her bank account number. "It would violate another law -- the bank secrecy law," he added.

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) said that ideally, the Right to Information and the Data Privacy Act should complement each other.

In a statement that Liboro issued Tuesday evening, he said that Data Privacy Act was not designed to prevent access to personal information under any circumstances, but to promote responsible and lawful use of personal information. 

R2KRN's concerns 

The workshop also served as an avenue for R2KRN to air its concerns.

While Eirene Aguila, R2KRN co-convener, acknowledged that the coalition has seen many developments with regard to the FOI push, she said there is a need for the FOI to be refocused.

"How should the government deal with (document) requests? There are still a lot of room for improvement," she noted.

Aguila also acknowledged the need to know when certain rights are "under attack".

Meanwhile, the coalition narrated that based on its FOI Practice Project that covered 20 regulatory, financial and high-interest agencies, only three out of five documents requested were granted. One of four was incomplete or was not released, the coalition added.  

"There were instances when requests were not accepted, and certain request formats being favored over the others," narrated the R2KRN.

It continued, "most agencies breached the 15-working day response period, while only one agency has officially asked for an extension. Many agencies did not acknowledge requests."

The R2KRN also mentioned the withholding of access to the Philippine National Police (PNP) spot reports, and the redaction of details in the SALN of members of the Cabinet.

Finally, the coalition wonders when the FOI Bill will be passed. The coalition thinks that the FOI is not among the government's priority agenda. (PNA)