31 MARCH 2008
P C I J S P E C I A L R E P O R T — GOV'T CURBS ACCESS TO INFORMATION AMID SENATE SCRUTINY OF PROJECTS
LAW AFFIRMS ACCESS
The PCIJ made 23 official requests but only 15 were addressed and eventually granted. This makes for a 65 percent rate of approval of requests for information. Still, most of the agencies that approved the requests also did not provide all the information that PCIJ had asked for.
For sure, some turned out to have incomplete data and had to refer PCIJ to other offices for the missing materials. Others, however, chose to release some information while withholding the rest of the data requested.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), for instance, gave PCIJ a copy of the NBN contract, but excluded the annexes.
Contacted by phone, the DOTC’s Contract Review and Documentation Division said the project supplier, China’s Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company Limited (ZTE), had claimed “proprietary rights” over the contract annexes and feasibility study.
PCIJ then requested the DOTC for a formal written explanation for the exclusion the annexes, but the department has yet to do so. Landingin, meanwhile, says the DOTC can still find a way to make important information like component costs (to check for overpricing) available without compromising the supplier’s rights.
The Department of Finance (DOF) said the request for the loan agreement between Export-Import Bank of China and the Philippine Government for the Non-Intrusive Container Inspection System Project would have to be referred to the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel because the requested document “may fall within the mantle of executive privilege and information.” This is even though government deals, once signed, become public documents.
The Philippine Domestic Construction Board (PDCB), for its part, said it was turning down the request for the Excel file version of its Consolidated Constructors Performance Summary Report because its policy is "to keep the source documents or files in strict confidence."
It must be stressed that the same report was already available in PDF format on the web site of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB). PCIJ requested for a copy in Excel only because this would make it easier for researchers to segregate foreign-funded projects from locally funded ones, list contractors and projects by implementing agency, and rank contractors by worth of projects awarded to them. PCIJ later got the requested Excel version from the GPPB.
Then there was the Philippine National Railways (PNR), which declined to release North Rail and South Rail Linkage Project documents to PCIJ because, according to a PNR representative, its Korean partners in the venture had “reservations of some sort.”
Landingin says that in the past, he was able to secure North Rail documents. This time around, the PNR was not the only state institution that decided to withhold the requested papers. North Luzon Railways Corporation (NLRC) took almost seven weeks — during which it waited for the appointment of a new chief — to decide to turn down the request for North Rail project data. The PCIJ also had to call NLRC the most number of times (21) among the agencies it contacted for Landingin’s report to follow up requests.
North Rail, another ODA project that has encountered controversy and seems to be currently in limbo, was the subject of a PCIJ investigative report in 2005. It was therefore no surprise that procuring data on it turned out to be among the most difficult to pull off, as was also the case with those on the NBN.
Somehow, though, information on a lesser-known project was even harder to get — at least from its implementing agency. R.A. 6713 stipulates: “All public officials and employees shall, within 15 working days from receipt thereof, respond to letters, telegrams, or other means of communications sent by the public.” The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), however, took 59 days just to say that the documents for the President Arroyo’s Bridges Program were undergoing audit by the Commission on Audit (COA).
Fortunately, PCIJ had mailed a request for copies of the same documents to the aid provider, Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), in Scotland. PCIJ received the documents from DfID, by mail, 44 days later (October 5). PCIJ also had no problem getting a different set of requested information on the same project from NEDA.
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