Capitol restricts release of documents
Reporters asking for public documents at the Provincial Capitol suddenly found themselves being asked to submit a letter of request first and to get clearance from the governor’s office.
The new arrangement started in earnest this week after a Nov. 12 memorandum was issued by Provincial Administrator Mark Tolentino.
He reminded all employees and officials of a 2010 memo requiring a prior written request “for information or production of records or documents” and stating that any release needs “clearance” from a department head and that “all documents released shall be reported to the Office of the Governor.”
Ironically, the 2010 memo was issued by former governor Gwendolyn Garcia.
“Please be reminded that non-compliance to these set of procedures will be subject to disciplinary action following the required due process,” it said.
Before the revival of the policy restricting access, news reporters would directly ask for copies of public documents from Capitol department heads or office staff with verbal approval from their bosses.
This week, the routine changed.
When reporters asked for a copy of budget documents for 2016, which is being deliberated by the Provincial Board, from Budget Officer Danilo Rodas told them to write to Tolentino for permission.
Cebu Daily News sought Tolentino for further comment, but calls to his mobile phone were not answered.
Rodas said he doesn’t mind releasing public documents without a letter of request, especially to the media but said he had to comply with the memo.
Dr. Roldan Saragena, provincial agriculturist, said he always respects memos..
However, he said he may release documents without a written letter of request and approval on a case-to-case basis.
When reporters asked the Capitol’s Human Resources Office for a list of employed doctors in provincial and district hospitals, they were not required to submit a letter of request.
Provincial Information Office Ethel Natera clarified that the memo is not a “gag order.”
She said it only serves as a reminder that protocol should be followed in government offices.
“Just like any other office, even in private companies, there has to be a process that will help us know who released information and what kind of information was released,” she said.
The Capitol has been taking the heat in recent days over the death of a one-year-old girl in the Minglanilla District Hospital, and questions raised about multi-million-peso consultancy contracts and the bidding out of heavy equipment, issues that have been highlighted as well by political opponents of the Davide administration.
Natera said the new memo did not have anything to do with these issues.
In the 2013 election, candidate Hilario Davide III campaigned for a culture of transparency and accountability in the provincial government.
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