Why are Freedom of Information Requests in the Philippines Being Denied?
An Analysis using a Practice-based Approach
Keywords:Freedom of Information, Philippines
In 2016, the Philippine president signed the Executive Order no. 2 that required government agencies under the executive branch to implement Freedom of Information (FOI). Along with this, the eFOI Portal was created which aims to increase government transparency while making it easy for the citizens to file a request. As of June 2019, the portal has received 11,990 FOI requests across 366 government offices. However, a series of reports on the actual experience of users of eFOI Portal by the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism in December 2018 revealed the many problems of the FOI implementation. Among these are the high rates FOI requests being denied, overdue responses from government agencies, and unsatisfactory results for fulfilled FOI requests. And so, given that the goal of eFOI Portal is to promote transparency in the government and support the public disclosure of information, but user experience tells otherwise, this looked at the mechanisms resulting in this gap. In particular, it attempted to answer why eFOI requests are being rejected.
Guided by Schatzki’s conception of practices, thematic analysis of the sayings, or the actual conversations of citizens and government agencies were performed on the 346 randomly sampled FOI requests. The paper found out that citizens and government agencies in the Philippines have unique practices when performing FOI, some of which favours the outcome of FOI requests being rejected. Government agencies reject FOI requests mostly because they do not have the information being requested, they do not consider the request made by some citizens as a valid form of FOI, and processing of FOI requests may be different from one agency to another. On the other hand, citizens also have some practices leading to FOI request denials such as requesting for research work, requesting for the government agencies’ opinion on current issues, and submitting complaints. Furthermore, the rules allowed for government agencies to have their own rules in processing FOI requests. Also, there are socio-technical arrangements in the eFOI Portal such as limited categories for reasons used by FOI Officers of respective government agencies in rejecting FOI requests, absence of the appeals process within the system, and no user satisfaction feedback for the whole transaction. Both of the rules and system design provided the environment for the FOI practices to happen and perpetuate. Thus, in improving the performance of FOI implementation, designers of the system must take into account the unique practices of government agencies and citizens. Some of the design considerations suggested by this paper is adding an additional support layer before citizens can file an FOI request to government agencies and improving the feedback to the system such as user satisfaction and appeals.
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