Freedom of information law signed in Cebu City

·4 min read

MAYOR Michael Rama signed Thursday, July 28, 2022, the “Freedom of Information Ordinance of Cebu City” that will give every Filipino access to information and public records of official acts, transactions and decisions, as well as government research data used as the basis for policy development in the custody of the Cebu City Government.

The move was applauded by the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), although it also noted that the approved ordinance “did not include the qualifier that the press council had proposed in its appearance before the City Council and dialogue with then councilor (Eduardo) Rama.”

City Ordinance 2657, also known as the “FOI Ordinance of 2019,” was authored by then city councilor and now Rep. Eduardo Rama Jr. (Cebu City, south district).

The ordinance notes that President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 2 on July 23, 2016 “Operationalizing in the Executive Branch the People’s Right to Information and the State Policies to Full Public Disclosure and Transparency in the Public Service and Providing Guidelines therefor” was limited to government offices under the Executive Branch “and merely enjoins the local government units to observe and be guided accordingly.”

“The Cebu City Government deems it necessary to provide a local mechanism for its offices where the people’s right to information is respected and upheld, subject to exceptions provided by law, ordinances and jurisprudence,” the ordinance read.

Under the ordinance, there shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information, with no request to be denied unless it falls under any of the exceptions in the inventory of freedom of information (FOI) exceptions, which the City Legal Officer was directed to submit to the City Council within 30 calendar days from the date of the effectivity of the ordinance, for its approval.

No exception shall be used to deny any request for information “if the denial is intended primarily and purposely to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, or graft or corruption,” the ordinance reads.

Related stories:

* CCPC hails signing of FOI ordinance, trusts problems in implementation will be solved

* CCPC asks Edu Rama, City Council to finish work on local Freedom of Information ordinance

The public information officer is tasked to ensure the implementation of the ordinance in all the departments and offices of City Hall. The PIO will also make the standard forms to be used for requesting public documents and monitor the status of such requests.

The Cebu City office concerned would have to give its decision to grant or deny a request for information within 15 working days, with an extension of 20 working days or more allowed when the information requested requires extensive search of the office’s records. There would be no charge for obtaining information in digital formats.

City Hall employees who violate the provisions of the ordinance would get a reprimand on the first offense, suspension of from one to 30 days for the second offense and dismissal from the service for the third offense.

On Thursday, the CCPC applauded Rama’s signing of the FOI ordinance.

“Last June 1, CCPC appealed to the City Council ‘to finish its work’ on the ordinance before the term of the 15th Sangguniang Panlungsod was to end last June 30. And the City Council did, with councilor, now Congressman, Eduardo ‘Edu’ Rama Jr. as principal author. And today, July 28, Mayor Rama signed the ordinance (No. 2657) into law,” lawyer Pachico Seares, CCPC executive director, said in a statement.

“It is another step toward institutionalizing access to information, started with President Duterte’s executive order of July 23, 2016 that ‘operationalized’ access to information in the executive branch. The City ordinance seeks to provide the local mechanism for Cebu City Government offices ‘where the people’s right to information is upheld,’” Seares said.

The CCPC hailed the ordinance’s promise to provide better access, “subject only to valid exceptions or limitations provided by the Constitution and laws and ordinances.”

However, Seares also noted that the approved ordinance “did not include the qualifier that the press council had proposed in its appearance before the City Council and dialogue with then councilor Rama and in published statements, namely:

That the procedure shall not mean that Cebu City Government offices and their officials will require release of information, verbally or in a document, to go through the procedure prescribed in the ordinance. The FOI ordinance shall not do away with routine flow of news and information through press briefings, conferences and news releases. The city administration shall even encourage unilateral release of documents in hard copy or through emails and digital news sites, as long as they don’t fall under the exceptions listed under the ordinance.”

The press group expressed hope that the FOI ordinance would serve its avowed purpose, which is full public disclosure in all its transactions involving public interest for the public’s effective and reasonable participation in governance.

“We cannot rule out problems in implementation but the mayor, by executive order, or the City Council, by amendment, will have the option and means to solve them. We trust in their genuine wish to make the ordinance work,” the CCPC said. (PAC, CTL)

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting