Freedom of Information ordinance: Tooling up Naga’s governance practices
By Jason B. Neola
NAGA CITY --- An ordinance that will work for an expeditious, efficient, and effective way of getting public and official records from the city government was enacted recently by the Sangguniang Panlungsod and approved by Mayor Nelson Legacion on Monday, Feb. 28, 2021.
Known as the Freedom of Information ordinance of the city government of Naga, the measure, which was authored by Councilor Jessie R. Albeus, discussed in detail the kinds of information allowed for mandatory disclosure and the manner as to how they can be accessed.
Legacion said that with the implementation of the ordinance, the LGU’s transparency and public accountability advocacy will further be strengthened.
The mechanism is contained also with guidelines on what data or documents, which are exception to the freedom of information rule as stated in the Nov. 24, 2016 memorandum issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary.
Section 11 of the ordinance said: “FOI shall be denied when the information falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law or jurisprudence.”
TRANSPARENCY. Councilor Jessie Albeus, DMD (center) discusses with the members of the media the salient provisions of City Ordinance No. 2021-014, a measure which operationalizes the Freedom of Information Law in the city government of Naga. JBN/VIC VILLAFLOR/CEPPIO
The memo enumerates at least seven, they are:
1. Privileged information relating to national security, defense or international relations;
2. Information concerning law enforcement and protection of public and personal safety (confidential information of the Naga City Police Office, Public Safety Office, and other local government agencies related to acts of terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, firearms smuggling and the likes);
3. Information deemed confidential for the protection of the privacy of persons including minors who are victims of crimes or the accused;
4. Information, documents, or records known by reason of official capacity and are deemed as confidential, including those submitted or disclosed by entities to government agencies, tribunals, boards or officers, in relation to the performance of their functions or to inquiries or investigation conducted by them in the exercise of their administrative, regulatory, or quasi-judicial powers;
5. Prejudicial premature disclosure;
6. Records of proceedings or information from proceedings which, pursuant to law or relevant rules and regulations, are treated as confidential or privileged;
7. Matters considered confidential under banking and finance laws and other amendatory laws.
In an interview, Albeus said if the Office of the City Administrator, the designated FOI Coordinating Office and Integrating Complaints Mechanism Unit, decides to deny the request, it shall as soon as practicable, in any case within 15 working days from receipt of the request to notify in writing the requesting party about the denial.
“The notice shall clearly set forth the ground(s) for denial and the circumstances on which the denial is based. Right to information will obviously be denied if the application is fictitious or not legitimate, pure curiosity, for commercial purpose, contrary to laws, morals, good customs or public policy, and has evident improper motive,” he said.
The ordinance also bears remedies on denial of request for access to information, such as:
1. Filing of an appeal to the Office of the City Mayor. Provided, that the written appeal must be filed by the same person who made the request within 3 working days from the notice of the denial or from the lapse of the relevant period to respond to the request.
2. The appeal shall be decided by the Office of the City Mayor within 5 working days from the filing of the written appeal. Failure of the OCM to decide within the afore-stated period shall be deemed a denial of the appeal.
3. In case of legislative records that were presented to or belonging to the Sangguniang Panlungsod or any of its committees, the appeal must be requested from the Office of the City Vice Mayor within 3 working days.
4. Upon exhaustion of administrative appeal remedies, the requesting party may file the appropriate case in the proper court in accordance with the Rules of Court.
Failure of any government officer to comply with the provisions of the ordinance shall be a ground for the following penalties: 1st offense, reprimand; 2nd offense, suspension of 1 to 30 days, and 3rd offense, dismissal from service.
However, mere denial will not be a ground for liability. A mere denial in good faith of a request made pursuant to the provisions of the ordinance shall not constitute grounds for the penalties.