The Road to Freedom of Information
An inside look at the Presidential Communications Operations Office and their implementation of the historic FOI program
BY MARCO NICANOR
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENJIE TOLENTINO
GROOMING BY FLOE TAPAYAN OF KANEBO
The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) has been at the forefront of the unprecedented implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) program. The agency was tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to ensure the implementation of the FOI to allow the Filipino citizens
to request from the executive agencies any information about government transactions, documents, decisions, and research data, provided that it does not compromise privacy restrictions and matters of national security.
Atty. Kristian Ablan, Assistant Secretary of the PCOO for Policy and Legislative Affairs and Director of
the FOI program, points out that “All the best democracies have transparent relationships with the citizens, where the citizens know everything that the government is doing. We have to embrace this culture of transparency and openness because all of these information came from the taxpayers’ money.”
The Executive Order of the President pertains to all government agencies, government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), and state universities and colleges (SUCs). These agencies and institutions under the Executive branch are also instructed, not only to make their information and
data available and accessible, but also to come up with a People’s Manual containing necessary guidelines to aid the general public in making FOI requests from their office.
THE LONG, UNEVENTFUL HISTORY OF THE FOI
The right of every Filipino citizen to have access to information from the government is written in the constitution. In the aftermath of martial law and the end of dictatorial rule, the people clamored for more transparency and accountability, recognizing that access to information concerning public affairs can
help limit the incidences of deception and corruption in the government.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution carries that promise of FOI. But after almost three decades of failed attempts at legislation for an FOI program, there was still nothing tangible to be had of such promise.
Fortunately, barely a month in office, President Duterte made good on his campaign promise of combating corruption and ensuring a transparent government by signing Executive Order No. 2. The order operationalizes the executive branch to have an FOI program in place.
SPEARHEADING A CULTURE OF TRANSPARENCY
The PCOO’s mandate is to monitor compliance to the program and to collect the submissions of different agencies.