Media's Public

Why Tomas shot down FOI ordinance

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]

Mayor Osmeña may issue an executive order instead. To avoid confusion and duplication, he said

[Related article: Concerns of Cebu Journalists on Local FOIs, Media’s Public, Dec. 3, 2016)

It was the classic “I-am-all-for-it-but” pitch of those who refuse a proposal but don’t want it to sound ugly.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, in his veto message of Jan. 25, said Ordinance #2471, which implements President Duterte’s Executive Order #2 on freedom of information, is premature as the Senate is still to enact its version of the FOI. It might cause confusion and duplication, he said.

Duterte issued his E.O. on FOI because Congress (not just the Senate) has been taking ages to pass the law. Even with the presidential E.O., there’s no telling yet when Congress will enact one.

Benchmark

The city ordinance will implement Duterte’s E.O., not the law that Congress still has to pass. So it’s no duplication. The benchmark is the E.O. already existing.

Confusion? The mayor should’ve cited in his veto which provisions in the ordinance clash with the Palace E.O. or even the pending Congress bills. So far, media watchers have found none.

In its comment on the then proposed ordinance, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) cautioned against conditions on release of information provisions not found or more burdensome than those in the E.O. (See sidebar.)

If contradictory

Would the FOI that Congress would enact be contradictory to Duterte’s E.O.? Very unlikely as the legislature is controlled by the president’s party. Congress wouldn’t embarrass Duterte by negating the effects of his E.O. It might even reduce the 166 exceptions that Department of Justice listed for the E.O. (SB 159 lists only 13.)

But even if the law would contradict the E.O., the law would prevail anyway. That’s common knowledge; thus no, confusion could ensue.
Ordinances can be amended; E.O.s can be changed. No problem even when Congress passes the FOI law.

No proof of ill-will

So why did the mayor shoot down the ordinance?

His critics already suspect that he didn’t want the credit to go to Councilor Jose Daluz III, its principal author. Daluz is Team Rama and the City Council that approved it is controlled by BOPK’s competing political group.

But they have no proof of ill-will. Just the skepticism that the mayor’s rivals attach to his every move: that is, Tomas decisions are driven by political agenda.

With the failure of the City Council, in its session last Feb. 7, to override the veto, the mayor said he’d issue an executive order instead.

He could come out as defender of right to public information by just lifting the Palace E.O. or Daluz’s ordinance.

Davide’s E.O.

Gov. Junjun Davide beat all other local officials in the country when he issued last Sept. 21 E.O. #15, his version of Duterte’s executive order. The Capitol document may still be improved, such as simplifying procedure, which Davide promised to make in the guidelines that would follow.

What Cebu City missed on timing, it compensated with an ordinance, which reflects the sentiment of not just the mayor but, in a wider range of representation, the elected councilors. But Tomas rejected the ordinance.

Apparently, the mayor didn’t want to be just a part of the city’s “statement” of adherence to “full disclosure, transparency and right to public information.”

Possible abuse

While Mayor Osmeña made the usual ritual of publicly supporting FOI, he was also wary: the right would be prone to abuse, he said, as, for example, 500 requests for tax information could snag City Hall operations.

Obviously, he hadn’t been briefed on the Palace E.O, the Daluz ordinance, and the bills pending in Congress. The problem of administrative snafu, which opposers to F.O.I. raised some time ago, has already been addressed.

[Dislosure: Seares is also executive director of Cebu Citizens-Press Council.]

MEDIA’S PUBLIC IN SUNSTAR ONLINE
www.sunstar.com.ph

(publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com)

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