The Department of Finance (DOF) has released its People's Freedom of Information (FOI) Manual in keeping with the people's constitutional right to information and the State's policy of full disclosure of its transactions involving public interest, subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law. In Department Order No. 061-2016, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III promulgated the 19-page FOI Manual, which states in detail what types of information can and cannot be released to the public, the processes of filing requests for information and appeals involving the grant or denial of request for access to information before the DOF Central Appeals and Review Committee and, whenever necessary, the Office of the President (OP). This manual covers requests for access to information filed with the Office of the Secretary of the DOF and all its attached agencies and bureaus, "until such time as FOI manuals specific to each of the attached bureaus and agencies shall have been adopted and promulgated separately" by these offices. The DOF released the manual in time for the re-launching of the government's online central database-Open Data Philippines at www.data.gov.ph-as part of the implementation of President Duterte's Executive Order (EO) No. 2 on freedom of information. According to MalacaAang, Open Data Philippines provides "the central portal where requested and proactively disclosed data and information may be accessed." Besides the database, MalacaAang will also open an eFOI platform, where the public can lodge requests for information, and get the data they need online. The eFOI facility will be launched to coincide with the implementation of the EO on FOI on November 25. Aside from the DOF, the eFOI platform will initially be available for the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). In his FOI directive, Dominguez named Undersecretary Bayani Agabin, who heads the DOF's Legal Services Group and Domestic Finance Group, as head of the Department's Central Appeals and Review Committee that will review and decide on future appeals for reconsideration of denied requests. As stated in the manual, "the responsibility for all actions of the DOF carried out under [its] FOI manual "is hereby delegated to the Undersecretary for Policy Development and Management Services Group." Undersecretary Gil Beltran, who is also the DOF's anti-red tape czar and chief economist, currently heads this group. "Section 7, Article III of the 1987 Constitution guarantees the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, and provides that access to official 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, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law," Dominguez said in his order. Dominguez's order likewise states that: "Based on jurisprudence, while access to official records may not be prohibited, it certainly may be regulated by a public officer pursuant to either statutory law or his inherent power to control his office and the records under his custody, by exercising some discretion as to the manner in which persons desiring to inspect, examine, or copy the record may exercise their rights." Under the DOF manual, official records, public records and documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development can be accessed. "There shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information, official records and public records, and no request for access may be denied by the Department of Finance and its attached bureaus and agencies," the manual stated. The manual lists the following circumstances where access to information may be limited or denied: A. The information requested falls under any of the exceptions provided for in the Constitution, existing law or jurisprudence, including: i. the items contained in the inventory of exceptions prepared by the DOJ and the OSG, and circularized by the OP, pursuant to Section 4 of EO No. 2 (2016); ii. Personal Information, Privileged Information and Sensitive Personal Information, except the following; (1) Information about any individual who is or was an officer or employee of a government institution that relates to the position or functions of the individual; (2) Information about an individual who is or was performing service under contract for a government institution that relates to the services performed, including the terms of the contract, and the name of the individual given in the course of the performance of those services; (3) Information relating to any discretionary benefit of a financial nature such as the granting of a license or permit given by the government to an individual, including the name of the individual and the exact nature of the benefit; and (4) Personal information processed for journalistic, artistic, literary or research purposes. iii. information which is specifically authorized to be kept secret under guidelines established by an executive order, and in fact properly classified pursuant thereto: Provided, That 1) The information directly relates to national security or defense and its revelation may cause grave damage to the national security or internal and external defense of the State; or 2) The information requested pertains to the foreign affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, when its revelation shall unduly weaken the negotiating position of the government in an ongoing bilateral or multilateral negotiation or seriously jeopardize the diplomatic relations of the Philippines with one or more states; iv. information which consists of records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation, invoked by the Chief Executive to be privileged by reason of the impairment of the Chief Executive's deliberative process that would result from the disclosure thereof; v. information pertaining to internal and/or external defense, law enforcement, and border control, when the disclosure thereof would: (i) unduly compromise or interfere with any legitimate military or law enforcement operation; or (ii) unduly compromise or interfere with the prevention, detection or suppression of criminal activity, the effective implementation of immigration controls and border security; or (iii) deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication; or (iv) lead to the disclosure of the identity of a confidential source, including a government, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in the case of a record or information compiled by a law enforcement authority in the course of an investigation or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source; or (v) disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law; or (vi) endanger the life or physical safety of any individual; vi. information consisting of drafts of orders, resolutions, decisions, memoranda or audit reports by the Department of Finance, its bureaus and agencies, or any of their respective offices/units in the exercise of their adjudicatory and/or audit function; vii. information pertaining to trade secrets and commercial or financial information or intellectual property obtained from a natural or juridical person other than the requesting party, whenever the revelation thereof would seriously prejudice the interests of such natural or juridical person in trade, industrial, financial or commercial competition; viii. information classified as privileged communications in legal proceedings by law or by the Rules of Court, unless the person entitled to the privilege has waived it; ix. information of a nature that its premature disclosure would likely frustrate the effective implementation of a proposed official action: Provided, that the information shall be accessible once the anticipated danger has ceased ; B. The information requested is not kept in or under the control and custody of the DOF, or any of its attached bureaus and agencies, as the case may be, depending on where the request is filed; C. Any of the requirements, conditions, or procedure prescribed under this FOI Manual is not complied with, such as failure to state a legitimate purpose for the request, without prejudice to the re-filing of the request upon proper compliance with the requirements, conditions and procedure; D. The information requested is already posted and available online; or E. The request substantially pertains to information previously requested by the same requesting party whose request has already been previously granted or denied by the DOF. Besides allowing access to information, the manual also states that the DOF should proactively disclose through their website, at no cost to the public and in an accessible form, "timely, true, accurate and updated key information including, but not limited to matters pertaining to its mandate, structure, powers, functions, duties and decision making processes; frontline services; and names of its key officials, their powers, functions and responsibilities, and their profiles and curriculum vitae; The DOF should also proactively disclose work programs, development plans, investment plans, projects, performance targets and accomplishments, and budgets, revenue allotments and expenditures; important rules and regulations, orders or decisions; current and important database and statistics; bidding processes and requirements; and mechanisms or procedures by which the public may participate in or otherwise influence the formulation of policy or the exercise of its powers. Dominguez named Beltran as the FOI Decision Maker of the Office of the Secretary who will be primarily responsible for evaluating requests for access to information, and in authorizing or denying them based on the Manual's provisions. Each bureau and agency under the DOF should also designate their respective FOI decision makers, with a rank of not lower than a Director or its equivalent. The Manual provides for a 15-day deadline, from the time the request was received, for the release of the requested document or response of the DOF or its attached bureaus and agencies to the information needed. A person whose request was denied has 15 calendar days from the notice of denial to file an appeal before the Central Appeals and Review Committee, which shall decide on the matter within 30 working days. "Failure to decide within the 30-day period shall be deemed a denial of the appeal," the manual said. The decision of the central committee can still be appealed before the OP. If the appeal is still denied by the OP, one can resort to judicial action. Any failure to comply with the manual's provisions shall be penalized with a reprimand for the first offense, a 30-day suspension for the second offense; and dismissal from the service for the third offense. Access to information is free of charge, although minimal fees may be charged by the DOF for reproducing, authenticating or certifying the requested documents. The manual shall take effect 15 days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation.
Source: Philippine Information Agency