January 31, 2023

The city council has approved on first reading a proposed ordinance operationalizing Freedom of Information (FOI) in the City Government of Baguio.

Authored by councilors Benny Bomogao and Mylen Victoria Yaranon, the proposed FOI Ordinance sought to ensure every Baguio resident will have access to information, official records, public records, and documents pertaining to official acts, transactions, decisions, and government research data used as basis for policy development that are in the custody of the city government or any of its offices.

According to the proposed ordinance, FOI shall be denied when the information falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing laws, or jurisprudence. 

The City Legal Office shall be tasked to prepare a local inventory of FOI exceptions and submit the same to the city council within 30 days from the date of effectivity of the ordinance.

The city council shall cause the publication of the local inventory for the guidance of all government offices covered by the ordinance.

Upon the enactment of the FOI ordinance, all city government officials shall be regularly reminded of their obligation to file and make available for scrutiny their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth in accordance with laws, rules, and regulations.

The proposed ordinance stated there shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information, public records, and official records and that no request for information shall be denied unless it clearly falls under any of the exceptions in the inventory of FOI exceptions.

Moreover, the proposal stated the head of the office shall exercise reasonable diligence to ensure that no exception shall be used or availed of to deny any request for information or access to public records if the denial is intended primarily and purposely to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, or graft and corruption.

While providing access to information, public officials shall afford full protection to their right to privacy pursuant to the Data Privacy Act of 2022.

Therefore, government offices shall ensure that personal information in their custody are disclosed only if they are relevant to the subject matter of the request and their disclosure is permissible under the ordinance, existing laws, and rules and regulations.

They must protect the information by making reasonable security arrangements against leaks or premature disclosure which unduly exposes an individual to vilification or harassment.

Any employee or official of a government office who has access to personal information in the custody of the office must not disclose those information except when authorized under the ordinance or pursuant to existing laws.

Any person who requests access to information shall submit a written request to the city’s Public Information Office (PIO).

The person receiving the request shall be designated as FOI receiving officer and shall provide reasonable assistance, free of charge, to enable all requesting parties. The requested document containing the requested information shall be stamped by the PIO. A copy of the request shall be furnished to the requesting party.

The government offices shall establish a system to trace the status of all requests for information received by it. They shall not charge any fee for accepting requests for access to information. Likewise, there shall be no charge for obtaining information in digital format. However, fees shall be imposed for printing, photocopying, and certification services rendered by the office.

Should the PIO decide to deny a request, it shall notify the requesting party of the denial in writing. Denial of any request may be appealed to the City Mayor’s Office to be decided upon within 30 working days from the filing of the appeal.

Failure of any government officer to comply with the provisions of the ordinance shall be reprimanded for the first offense, suspended for a period between one to 30 days for the second offense, and dismissed from service for the third offense. The ordinance has been referred to the city council’s committee on laws, human rights, and justice for review. – Jordan G. Habbiling