DATA from 15 national government agencies can now be accessed through a website launched last Friday on the freedom of information (FOI).
The eFOI, as the portal is called, is the first-ever of its kind designed to make requests for government information easy and possible. Here’s how the eFOI works:
The website address is www.foi.gov.ph, and it opens to a page in blue background and a search box that asks, “What do you want to know?” The design is clean and free of clutter, and is similar in look to the Google search.
Scroll down the page and you will find more FOI information, the executive order of President Rodrigo Duterte to back up his campaign promise to open government to the people, and the three steps to making a request. For a website still on test or beta stage, It has adequate features for people wanting to access government data.
The site is easy to navigate, has no clutter and adopts a user-centered design. Other government websites open to a page full of text, but not the eFOI that highlights its search engine and sections.
The guide found at the page bottom that lists to steps to making a request could be brought higher on the page as it is something users would need to see right away. The step-by-step guide is not at all complicated. Requests made could also be tracked. Response time is within 15 working days.
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, there were 69 requests to some of the 15 national government agencies.
The design and usability of the eFOI are important to making the portal work. But outside of design, the eFOI has limitations. First limitation is that it covers only the executive branch pending the passage of a law.
Another is that only 15 agencies are covered. Those searchable are the departments of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Budget and Management (DBM), Finance (DOF), Justice (DOJ), Health (DOH) and Transportation (DOTr); the Presidential Communications Office, Philippine Statistics Authority, National Archives of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, Presidential Commission on Good Government, Office of the Solicitor General and Public Attorney’s Office.
Not included are the departments of education, social welfare and public works, among others.
Third limitation is the list of exemptions stated in the manual. The nine exemptions include information covered by executive privilege, relating to national security, defense, or international relations, and those deemed confidential for the protection of privacy of individuals such as minors, victims of crimes, or the accused. Also exempted are information, documents or records deemed confidential by the concerned government agencies; prejudicial premature disclosure; record of court proceedings; those involving banking and finance laws; and other exceptions provided by law.
Critics said these exemptions render the FOI manual toothless or without a bite. Next step is for the public to give it a try and test the eFOI for effectiveness and areas for improvement.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on November 27, 2016.
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