Rodrigo Duterte

No more secrets: Philippine leader orders government to open records to the public

Despite this move towards transparency, Rodrigo Duterte has stopped giving interviews to the media after clashing with journalists

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2016, 8:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2016, 11:06pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a landmark freedom of information order to allow the public full access to government records for the first time, in a move welcomed by transparency advocates.

The executive order, providing for “full public disclosure and transparency” by government agencies, was signed by the firebrand leader on Saturday, his spokesman Martin Andanar said, just 25 days after taking office.

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Media and watchdog groups had been demanding the reform, the first national freedom of information order, for years.

“This is record-breaking speed for a landmark executive order being signed,” Andanar said.

Press and anti-corruption groups have long campaigned for freedom of information to combat endemic corruption blighting the impoverished nation.

“This is a gesture we are sure not only media but everybody who believes (in) transparency and accountability... and democracy highly appreciates,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement.

The order, covering all central government offices, requires them to make public records, meetings, research and any information requested by a member of the public, except for matters affecting national security, Andanar said.

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The order does not cover the legislature and judiciary. Local governments are “encouraged to observe and be guided by this order,” copies of the document said.

A proposed law imposing freedom of information procedures on public bodies nationwide, including Congress and the courts, has remained stuck in the legislature for years. The last Congress adjourned without passing a new law, even though Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino had backed the idea.

Senator Grace Poe, an advocate of the freedom of information bill, said that Duterte’s move “is already indeed a milestone”.

“There are a lot of things that we need to continue with regard to the freedom of information in other branches of government but we await with much anticipation that full implementation in the executive branch,” she said in a statement.

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Andanar said Duterte, who took office in June, respected the independence of Congress and denied the new order was intended to pressure lawmakers into passing the freedom of information law.

Despite this move towards transparency, Andanar conceded that Duterte had stopped giving interviews to the media after clashing with journalists last month over his justification for the murder of reporters who he branded as corrupt.

“It is still the prerogative of the president if he wants to be interviewed or not,” the spokesman said.

The brash anti-establishment president has previously vowed to fight corruption but his main focus has been a war on crime that has seen the killing of hundreds of suspected drug pushers since he was elected on May 9.

Since assuming the presidency on June 30, Duterte has repeatedly shunned tradition and chose to take his oath of office in the presidential palace instead of at a mass gathering in a national park to avoid causing heavy traffic in the gridlocked capital.

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Even presidential fashion has changed, with Duterte wearing jeans at military parades and seen rolling up the sleeves of the traditional “barong” shirt worn for formal occasions.

He has even instructed his government not to call him “Your Excellency”.

A survey last week showed that Duterte enjoyed the trust of an “overwhelming majority” of Filipinos.

Pulse Asia Research Inc. said in its latest survey that 91 per cent of the 1,200 Filipinos interviewed nationwide expressed their trust to Duterte. Only 0.2 per cent of the respondents distrust the new Philippine president, the survey said.

The survey polled 1,200 Filipinos from July 2 to 8.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Xinhua