Better than inutile FOI
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. is no stranger to controversy. Like President Rodrigo Duterte, Locsin could be a firebrand with his language. An erstwhile media man himself before he dabbled to politics and served three consecutive terms as Makati Congressman, Locsin also thrives well in dealing with his controversial kind of language.

In fact, Locsin stirred a big controversy, which perhaps he never intended to create. It all innocently started from a social media interaction the DFA Secretary had with one overseas Filipino worker (OFW), a certain Jayson Floresca Santos aka @jaysondmx. Tagging @teddyboylocsin, the OFW directly sought out the DFA Secretary’s Twitter Account to clarify why he is being made to submit anew his birth certificate when he was merely renewing his Philippine passport.

To his credit, Locsin addressed immediately this concern. He forwarded the Twitter message to the Twitter Account of Elmer Cato who happens to be the DFA assistant secretary for public diplomacy.

And subsequent exchanges of Twitter posts with his immediate staff at the DFA unexpectedly stirred quite a stormy turn of events. After merely responding from the public that he serves, the DFA Secretary now is facing Senate investigation into alleged data breach by DFA contractors involved in the production of our Philippine passports.

After the ensuing hullabaloo over this OFW clarification, Cato posted last week over Twitter his feedback report to the DFA Secretary: “Mission accomplished. Sir @teddyboylocsin for @jaysondmx who triggered this entire birth certificate issue. His passport is waiting for him at @DFAPHL Angeles. Coffee and Chickenjoy on me Jayson.” Cato attached a picture of the name page of the passport but the details of the applicant were blurred.

FYI: i gave sir @elmer_cato permission to post my passport’s photo. I-po post ko din naman talaga eh. All informations are covered naman so i dont see any problem.

Thank you so much sir @elmer_cato and sir @teddyboylocsin. Best gift i received this year and for my family. May GOD Bless you always. We need more people like you in our government. More Power po.

Unimpressed, certain Senators raised cyber security concerns. This, after Locsin earlier claimed a “pissed off” DFA contractor that handled the passport printing machines, after its contract was terminated, “ran off” with the personal data from holders of machine readable Philippine passports.

The planned Senate investigation reportedly will include Locsin’s predecessors at the DFA, namely, former Secretaries Albert del Rosario to Perfecto Yasay Jr., and Alan Peter Cayetano. Appointed in October last year, Locsin inherited the DFA’s Philippine passport system presently using electronic chips.

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) also announced they will conduct their own investigation into the possible data breach. Subsequently, however, Locsin clarified the details were intact but merely “made inaccessible” to the DFA.

Upon their initial investigations on the matter, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) “acting” Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. confirmed Locsin’s statement but it remains under their investigation.

In a postscript of the brouhaha, Locsin tweeted being unperturbed by criticisms he was shooting from the hips. He likens his style with President Duterte’s “shaking the tree” to get a sense of the public pulse. In his case, the passport mess came out in the open.

Long before the Philippine passport brouhaha broke out, the name of Locsin cropped up in my chat with a member of the diplomatic community here. In the course of my conversations with an Asian diplomat, he raised his observation on how our DFA Secretary is very active in his Twitter posts at any one day.

“He (Locsin) is so Trumpy,” the Asian diplomat wryly noted. At first, I did not get what the diplomat meant. I had to frankly ask him to repeat what he said and explain what he meant. “Trumpy, as in Donald Trump who also tweets a lot,” he retorted. “He (Locsin) is Trump-ish,” he added and chortled.

It finally dawned on me he referred to the United States President. With millions of followers, not just from the US but also from the rest of the world, Trump also engages with the public and minces no word even to bash his administration critics through his Twitter posts.

When the DFA Secretary was first appointed by President Duterte to become the Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) in New York, it did not stop Locsin to maintain his active presence in his Twitter Account. Even while he is in UN, Locsin posted his commentaries on news about the Philippines and in other parts of the world.

It was through his Twitter Account when Locsin first officially announced his transmittal of the Philippine government’s notice of withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. He posted a copy of the letter after it was officially transmitted and received by the UN on March 16, 2018.     

Methinks, we could live with a “Trump-ish” DFA Secretary who values immediate public response. This is not to mention a “Trump-ish” Cabinet Secretary like him who gives the public a certain amount of transparency in official communications with government functionaries under his agency.

This is more than what the Freedom of Information (FOI) can deliver. Issued under Executive Order No. 2 on July 23, 2016, the FOI was supposed to ensure Filipinos’ access to government information, official records, public records and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development for as long as it is not covered by the exceptions under this EO.

I would rather have a Trump-ish Locsin who can quickly deliver public service in terms of providing almost instantaneous feedback, if not new information, and easy access to communications directly with a Cabinet official.

Having such a “Trump-ish” Philippine government official, who needs an inutile FOI?

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