|Arroyo orders restrictions on public access to information|
|Written by CMFR/GMANews.TV|
|Monday, 18 June 2007 13:41|
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued an Executive Order (EO) that will further restrict public and media access to official information, the media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) revealed on Saturday.
The group revealed in a statement that Mrs Arroyo issued EO 608 on Friday, creating a National Security Clearance System that will "protect and ensure the integrity and sanctity" of classified information against "enemies of the state."
"It is the duty and responsibility of all government departments, agencies and offices to implement security measures that will protect and ensure the integrity and sanctity of classified or sensitive materials or information they have access to or in their possession," CMFR's statement quoted the order.
The group said heads of government agencies with access to classified matters are directed by EO 608 to implement and institutionalize the security clearance procedure approved by the office of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales.
"Any unauthorized disclosure, sharing, publication or use of the information contained in the classified documents or materials shall be considered a grave offense and shall be punishable in accordance with civil service rules and regulations," CMFR quoted the EO.
Departments are also ordered to designate a security officer who will assume responsibility for holding classified information.
Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), a non-governmental organization that seeks to reduce corruption through transparency in the government, expressed alarm over the order.
"Through the passing of Executive Order 608, the President and her administration has shown their inclination towards confidentiality and secrecy," said TAN executive director Vincent Lazatin.
"This is probably a result of the government's paranoia on sensitive issues," he said.
Lawyer Nepomuceno Malauan, co-convenor of the Access to Information Network, which has been working for the passage of a freedom of information act, also said the EO "does not conform to any globally recognized standards of reasonable exception to access to information."
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, however, said the Arroyo administration is only concerned about national safety. But he specifically mentioned the opposition as a threat.
The Daily Tribune quoted Ermita as saying: "When we deal with matters of security, all of us must be responsible enough in handling such information—and disinformation. And when I say 'responsible enough,' we should not just throw anything against the administration and use the sensitive information. So [the opposition] should be discerning enough to know what are matters of national security especially that (sic) which pertain to the safety of our people and that's the reason we are now quite strict in handling security matters."
On March 6, Mrs Arroyo signed the Anti-Terror Law, which will create an Anti-Terror Council tasked with the role of proscribing which groups are terrorist organizations. - CMFR/GMANews.TV