President Duterte finally signs FOI

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Davao City (CNN Philippines) — Six years were not enough for his predecessor to pass a measure on Freedom of Information (FOI), but in less than a month in office, President Rodrigo Duterte has come up with such a decree — at least for the Executive branch.

In Davao City Saturday evening, Duterte inked the Executive Order (EO) on FOI.

“I surmise that the public will understand that after 29 years of fighting to strengthen this freedom of information, and to strengthen the right to information … Only 25 days as President Rody Duterte -- this is already a record-breaking speed of a cornerstone, a milestone, or a landmark executive order being signed,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a press conference Sunday.

The EO states that every Filipino shall have access to information, records, and documents to official government transactions as well as research data.

Abangan nyo po, asahan nyo po na yung mga impormasyon tulad ng kontrata kung saan napupunta yung pondo ng bayan,” Andanar said. [Translation: Please expect that information such as contracts involving the use of public funds will be made available.]

The EO covers all government agencies under the executive branch — but is not limited to national government agencies and offices.

“There were substantive pushing and pulling additions to this executive order for more transparent executive branch of government,” Andanar said.

According to Andanar, with FOI, the release of the requested information should not take more than 15 days.

But if there are legal questions on the information requested, it shall be forwarded to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) or the Department of Justice (DOJ) for interpretation.

Andanar said those who refuse to disclose information will be penalized with administrative cases.

The OSG and DOJ were directed to submit an inventory of the type of information that will be exempted from public disclosure by the EO to the office of the president in 30 days.

Government offices are barred from receiving any fee in accepting requests but may charge a reasonable fee when it comes to reproducing the documents.

Asked why the president signed the EO close to his first State of the Nation Address, Andanar said “there's no such thing as timing of signing it.”

“It just so happened that the executive order was finalized Saturday night,” he added.

Congress urged to pass an “all-embracing” FOI law

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate welcomed the President’s move to finally sign an EO on FOI.

"This is very good and long awaited step in the quest for transparency and accountability in government,” Zarate said.

Zarate stressed, this is a clear recognition of every Filipino's right to ‘have access to information and official records.

The lawmaker added, the Executive's initiative is “certainly a challenge” to Congress to pass “an all-embracing FOI law.”

“We urge in particular the House leadership to fast track the passage of a genuine FOI bill, one that will truly reflect the principles of full transparency in government and full accountability of government officials and employees,” Zarate said.

Zarate filed an FOI bill marked as House Bill 334 last June 30.  The lawmaker added, a genuine FOI is “a necessary tool” in the fight against graft and corruption and against other forms of abuse and excesses in the government.

CNN Philippines' Fiona Nicolas contributed to this report.