Liloy town in Zamboanga Del Norte approved in March 2021 a local Freedom of Information (FOI) ordinance, institutionalizing public access to information.
The town also rolled out an online platform – the Legislative Information Tracking System (LITS) – that allows easy access to digitized copies of local policies, ordinances, attendance records, and other performance indicators of Sanggunian Council members.
The small coastal town, with a population of less than 40,000, is one of the bright spots in the country where access to information remains uneven and often dependent on the inclination of officials heading government offices.
Jeofrey Gomisong, founder and coordinator of civil society organization (CSO) Liloy People’s Council (LPC), shared the town’s success story in a recent online forum organized by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, and Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO).
The event followed last year’s workshop on accessing information and FOI advocacy. Forty representatives of different CSOs and national and local government offices were gathered to share their experiences with their own efforts to access information from national and local government offices in the past year.
Gomisong’s LPC was instrumental in passing the FOI ordinance in Liloy. The first draft they submitted in August 2020 lacked enough support so they held community consultations for the people to appreciate its benefits. They also engaged the legislative body, whose members were later persuaded to author or co-author the ordinance.
The support of Liloy Mayor Roberto Uy Jr. was also critical. Gomisong said he was hopeful that Uy, who is president of League of Municipalities of the Philippines, will inspire other municipalities in the province to replicate their ordinance.
Other workshop participants reported facing continued challenges. Process Foundation Panay manager Lorena Navallasca said she had difficulty requesting the Office of the Vice Governor of Antique for a copy of a public policy. She was eventually provided a copy by a Sangguniang Panlalawigan member, but the document that was supposed to be public was marked confidential.
A representative from the Office of the Vice Governor of Antique, who was present during the online conference, said they will make sure that Navallasca’s experience will not happen again.
Ibon Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa, who used the FOI portal and filed direct requests from government offices, reported mixed feedback. He said there were offices that were helpful, but there were others that “dribbled” him from one agency to another. Africa said they experienced difficulties whenever they tried to access “controversial” data such as the list of beneficiaries of the government’s social amelioration program and records of its Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.
Meanwhile, independent researcher Miguel Lopez encouraged participants to use open-source systems as alternative sources of information. He used open source data to develop a map of bike lanes and facilities in Metro Manila central business districts.
The FOI workshop and the online conference were supported by Internews through the Initiative for Media Freedom project.
— PCIJ, July 2021