Journalists, FOI advocates welcome signing of EO

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 24 2016 05:45 PM

MANILA - Journalists and other Freedom of Information (FOI) advocates welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte's signing of an executive order on FOI, considering it as a tool to combat corruption in government.

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the gesture will benefit not only the media but everyone who believes in transparency and accountability in government.

The group also urged the Congress to make FOI a "part and parcel of governance" through legislation.

The group, likewise, called on the government to "expand and strengthen" freedom of the press by working to end media killings and doing away with laws "that suppress free expression."

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), on the other hand, said the new law can be used as a tool for exposing corruption in government.

"The EO will be useful for anti-corruption advocates and journalists to follow the transactions of government agencies, especially on the use of public funds and other matters concerning the executive branch," said CEGP national deputy secretary general Jose Maria Callueng.

The new executive order, according to the CEGP, can also be used by students to monitor the finances of state universities and colleges.

"The EO is only effective to the agencies of the executive branch. It's important that all three branches of the government will be required to open their transactions and papers to the public by a strong and comprehensive legislation on FOI," Callueng explained.

Meanwhile, Kabataan Party-list congratulated Duterte for achieving what it considers a "landmark order" in less than a month as president.

The group, however, noted that the EO on FOI still has limitations.

"For example, it clearly states that it will not cover 'exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law or jurisprudence.' As such, limitations such as the invocation of 'executive privilege' and national security are still there -- exceptions that we duly fought against in the crafting of an FOI bill in Congress," the group said in a statement.

Due to these limitations, the group continues its call for a law on Freedom of Information.

"The EO only covers the agencies and departments under the Executive Branch, and thus cannot cover requests for information under the Legislative and Judicial branches of government, and even independent constitutional commissions. Thus we remain adamant in our call for the passage of a comprehensive FOI law," the group said.

FOI Youth Initiative echoed the call for an FOI law.

"While this is a very welcome development, we hope that this new administration will continue to pursue the enactment of a complete Freedom of Information Law through legislation, with provisions requiring access to particular documents and data in all levels of government, penalties for public officials and employees who deny such access, and other components that will truly guarantee transparency, accountability, and people's participation," the group said in a statement.