The City Council, during last Monday’s regular session, approved on first reading a proposed ordinance operationalizing freedom of information in the local government and providing guidelines for the implementation of the same.
The ordinance authored by Councilor Benny Bomogao states that the measure shall cover all offices under the local government.
Further, every Filipino citizen who is a resident of the city shall have access to information, official records, public records and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, in the custody of the local government or any of its offices.
However, ordinance claims that freedom of information shall be denied when the information falls under any of the exemptions enshrined under the Constitution, existing, laws or jurisprudence.
The ordinance tasked the City Legal Office to prepare an inventory of freedom of information exemptions and submit these to the local legislative body within 30 days from the date of the effectivity of the measures for its approval.
Subsequently, the Secretary to the Sanggunian shall cause the publication of the local inventory of freedom of information exemptions for the guidance of all government offices covered by the proposed measure. Said local inventory of freedom of information exemptions shall be periodically updated by the City Legal Office and the local legislative body.
The ordinance reminds public officials of the city government of their obligation to file and make available for scrutiny their respective Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) pursuant to existing laws, rules and regulations in the spirit and letter of the proposed measure.
The ordinance points out that there should be a legal presumption in favour of access to information, public records and official records. No request for information shall be denied unless it clearly falls under any of the prescribed exemptions in the inventory of freedom of information exemptions.
While providing access to information, public records and official records, the ordinance underscores that responsible officials shall afford full protection to the right to privacy of the individual, pursuant to the Data Privacy Act of 2012.
Any person who requests access to information shall submit a written request to the Public Information Office. The official receiving the request shall be designated as the FOI receiving officer and shall extend assistance, free of charge, to enable all requesting parties. The request shall be stamped by the PIO indicating the date and time of receipts. The PIO shall respond to a request fully compliant with requirements of the measure as soon as practicable but not exceeding 15 working days. Once a decision is made to grant the request, the person making the request shall be notified of such decision and directed to pay any applicable fees.
The ordinance explains that government offices shall not charge any fees for accepting requests for access to information. Likewise, there shall be no charge for obtaining information in digital format.
But a schedule of fees will be imposed for printing, photocopying, and certification services rendered by a government office. Among the prescribed fees include certification of official records – P50 per page for the first copy and P5 per page for succeeding copies; printing – P5 per page; photocopying – P3 per page for long bond and P2 per page for short bond.
The ordinance stipulates that the prescribed fees shall be paid to the City Treasury Office at the time of the said request, whether written or verbal. The official receipt number, the amount of total fees, and the date of payment shall be indicated at the bottom of the certification that will be issued for the said purpose.
The ordinance says that the PIO may exempt any requesting party from payment of fees, upon request stating the valid reason why such party shall not pay the prescribed fee.
If the PIO decides to deny the request to access to information, in whole or in part, it shall as soon as practicable, in any case within 15working days from the receipt of the request, or within 20 working days in case of extension, whichever is applicable, notify the requesting party the denial in writing. The notice shall clearly set for the ground or grounds for denial and the circumstances on which the denial is based. Failure to notify the requesting party of the action taken on the request within the period shall be deemed a denial of the request for access to information.
The denial of access to information shall be appealed to the City Mayor’s Office following the prescribed procedures provided that the written appeal must be filed by the same person making the request within 15 days from the notice of denial or from the lapse of the relevant period to respond to the request. The appeal shall be decided by the City mayor’s Office within 30 working days from the filing of the written appeal. Failure of the City Mayor’s Office to decide within this period shall be deemed a denial of the appeal. Upon exhaustion of administrative appeal or remedies, the requesting party may file the appropriate case in the proper courts pursuant to the Rules of Court.
The ordinance emphasizes that failure of any government officer to comply with the provisions of the measure shall be a ground for reprimand for the first offense; suspension of 1-30 days for the second offense and dismissal from the service for the third offense.