CCPC wants Capitol to clarify memo
Members of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) are asking the Cebu provincial government to clarify its rules on the release of public documents.
The council, in its quarterly meeting yesterday approved a resolution seeking the clarification following a Capitol memorandum dated November 9 stating procedures for the release of documents and records to the public.
Provincial Administrator Mark Tolentino, in his memo, requires that “request for information or production of records or documents” shall be in writing. Approval of the department head for release should also be in writing, and release of any document shall be reported to the Office of the Governor.
The memo also reminds Capitol officials and employees follow procedures laid down in an Aug. 21, 2010 memo issued by then-governor Gwendolyn Garcia.
“The Tolentino memo, as worded, may confuse media practitioners regarding its enforcement and hamper, if not frustrate, their work of reporting and commenting on the news,” said the CCPC resolution, approved durits quarterly meeting at the Marcelo B. Fernan Press Center in Cebu City.
The Capitol memo does not state the reasons or grounds for withholding information or release of a document or record
This, the resolution stated, gives a Capitol department head unrestricted discretion to withhold approval and use the authority to hit back at journalists who displease them.
Controversy over the memo, described in some media reports as a “gag order” was amplified when radio anchorman Oscar Pasaporte complained that his request for a copy of a consultant’s contract was turned down by the provincial administrator.
Tolentino in his written reply to the radioman, said he rejected the request because Pasaporte had been unfairly attacking on air certain Capitol officials including Tolentino, and that the documents may be used to further malign them.
The Nov. 9 memo was issued after that controversy, which also involved personnel matters regarding the job status of Pasaporte’s wife, who was working in the Office of the Governor and was eventually dismissed. She was later rehired in another Capitol office.
In one press conference, Gov. Hilario Davide III said the memo is “merely protocol” and is not a gag order and does not prevent the release of information from the Capitol.
Davide said his administration has always practiced transparency.
The memo also included “request for information,” aside from “request for production of records or documents,” which reporters might interpret to mean that it also applies to questions or interviews.
“It is the essence of the journalist’s work to obtain or verify, with the least delay, information of public interest, media material being highly perishable,” reads the resolution.
The resolution also states that the memo tends to create an “unnecessary level of bureaucracy”.
The reasons which Governor Davide and Tolentino have given in interviews that they are afraid public documents may be used to put officials in a bad light, the resolution reads, wouldn’t stand against the imperative of accountability and transparency.
Yesterday, the council resolved to request the provincial government to clarify its “protocol” on release of documents by stating the reasons for a department head to withhold information from the public.
The CCPC said department heads should follow the protocol “judiciously”, and use it only for regulation, not prohibition or suppression, and for public good, regardless of whether it is also tainted with political or private interest.
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