Paper trails: Role of records management in RITM’s digital future

Last January 18, 2019, a representative from the National Archive of the Philippines (NAP) visited the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to conduct a training on inventory of records and disposal of valueless records. A total of seventy-nine (79) department records coordinator are expected to submit a full records inventory of their respective departments following the conduct of the training.

The training was organized by the General Records Department (GRD) of RITM. “Records play a very important role in the creation of [our] day to day activities,” said Mr. Roseller Flores, Head of the General Records Department of RITM. He also added “even if something doesn’t exist anymore, the records will tell you the history policies, goals and other memories of their existence.”

Trails of an Institute

It all begins with a record.

In 1981, through Executive Order No. 674, RITM was created in cooperation with the Government of Japan for the development of a research program and facility for tropical medicine in the Philippines. Along with its creation was the establishment of the GRD under the Administrative and Finance Division.

Back then, it was headed by Ms. Julie Alcala and it was a separate department from Medical Records which was both under one division at that time,” recalled Mr. Flores. When Ms. Alcala left, Mr. Flores narrated that Ms. Florinda Tuvillo became the head of both the Medical Records and the GRD. He also added “Ms. Tuvillo heads the Medical Records while I was transferred from Property and Supply Department to the GRD as Records Officer II, and then as Head from 1990 to present.”

Later on, Mr. Flores noted that the Medical Records Department was transferred from the Admin and Finance to the Clinical Research Division (CRD). The CRD became in-charge of all the medical records of the Institute while the GRD take charge of the administrative records of the Institute.

The Republic Act 9470 (RA 9470), otherwise known as the “National Archives of the Philippines Act of 2007” was created to strengthen the system of management and administration of archival records. Along with its creation came the establishment of the NAP, the national government agency attached to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. NAP serves as the official repository of public records and archives and is also in charge of the preservation, conservation, and access of records to the public.

Under the Act, all government offices and local government units (LGUs) are required to create and maintain accurate and accessible full records of all transactions and affairs. It also forbids the disposition of public records and protected records except with the authority of the NAP Executive Director.

At RITM, records may include but are not limited to: administrative and management records, budget records, financial and accounting records, human resource/personnel management records, legal records, procurement and supply records, training records, and patient health records.

In general, records can be used as working tools of management in the formulation of policy, programs and projects. It is also a source of statistics to support innovation of agency program of work.

Create, capture, and manage

RA 9470 defines records management as “managerial activities involved with respect to records creation, records maintenance and use, transmission, retention and records disposition in order to achieve adequate and proper documentation of policies and transactions of government for its efficient, effective, and economical operation.”

Through a Records and Archives Management Program, a government agency would have a planned, coordinated set of policies, procedure and activities, serving as guide in the management of records and administration of archives.

Records management involves active involvement in information management processes and decisions not only among top management but all staff. Aside from compliance, records management is also rooted in collaboration and accountability.

In 2018, all divisions and departments of RITM were required to designate their own Records Coordinator. A Department Records Coordinator is tasked to conduct records inventory according to the adopted NAP and Department of Health (DOH) Records Disposition Schedule (RDS). They should also maintain a classification guide for all records in their custody and a permanent record registry. A Department Records Coordinator should also endorse the list of records not included in the adopted NAP and DOH RDS to the department head for the assignment of retention period.

On the other hand, a Division Records Coordinator is the one in-charge of receiving and compiling the list of records to be disposed and list of records with corresponding retention schedule. The list of disposable records and the RDS should be submitted by the Division Records Coordinator to the Division Chief for endorsement. Once approved, they should submit the endorsed division RDS to the General Records Department and the retention period of records which are not included in the NAP General Disposition Schedule.

With the submission of the Records Inventories of all the Division and Department this January 2019, we targeted the month of June 2019 and every year thereafter for the disposal of all valueless records that will ensure the proper working condition with regards to records management,” as explained by Mr. Flores.

As a result of expansion, specialization and diversification of an Institute’s operations, having an effective records management strategy is crucial for accountability, efficient business operations, protection of rights and entitlements and the capacity to reconstruct the past.

The room of records

One of the main purposes of RA 9470 is to enhance public confidence in the integrity of public recordkeeping and management.
In the beginning, the GRD of RITM was located in a small room in front of the auditor’s office because the original room and file room was occupied by the Medical Records Department. Mr. Flores explained that “because of the expansion of the Medical Records, the records in the File Room were transferred to the 2nd floor building beside the Biomedical Department. It was then later disposed to give way to its renovation.”

Under the Act, all government agencies and LGUs are required to allocate an agency storage area – for maintenance and preservation of public records – which will serve as a repository managed and operated by its GRD. Consequently, any archives, such as a local government repository, should be approved by the NAP Executive Director.

During the completion of the Balmis Building, the GRD was transferred to the 2nd floor in a big room where unfortunately there is no windows or ventilation and a large stock room supposedly allocated for another department,” added Mr. Flores.

The room was big, but the stock room was full of belongings of other projects. The ceiling becomes moist when it rains. With the renovation, the room became our office and the stock room was converted into the Institute’s File Room,” stated Mr. Flores. According to RA 9470, one of the basic procedures for proper execution and control of any records management system is a proper and effective filling equipment and supplies.

In the previous years, we have requested the installation of an air-conditioning unit as one of our preservation and conservation strategies of our records. Unfortunately, it did not push through,” as elaborated by Mr. Flores. With the Institute’s ongoing organizational structuring, Mr. Flores said they are hoping that the establishment of an RITM Archival Room and renovation of the File Room will be included in the Institute’s priorities from 2019 to 2020.

RITM in the digital age

With the rapidly changing digital and online world, the Institute, through its Information Technology (IT) Department is currently developing its IT systems to modernize its administrative processes.

One of the system being developed focuses on Document Management Processes. RITM received its ISO 9001:2015 re-certification from TÜV Rheinland. In line with this, a Document Revision Control System was created to manage revisions for submitted and approved documented procedures.

Furthermore, the IT Department and the General Records Department recently presented the General Records Department Online Document Dissemination System (GRD-ODDS).

Mr. Flores stated that “With the approval of the GRD-ODDS, you can now access all approved issuances (Office Order and Memorandum) through the RITM-WEB. It is fully implemented this year and you don’t need to go to the office or call to know the status of your request for Office Order or Memorandum issued by the Director.”

The assigned division/department Records Coordinator are designated as Point Persons to view, download, and disseminate copies of issuances within their division/department and concerned personnel. Records Coordinators are then required to confirm that they have downloaded and printed copy/copies to the General Records Department.

The GRD-ODDS can be accessed through the RITM-WEB. Along with the ODDS, the IT Department also introduced the Document Tracking System, which aims provides a virtual paper trail of documents created within the Institute in the coming years.

As head of the General Records Department, my vision for the next five years, in line with the mandate of the Department in providing effective and efficient records management and messengerial activities and the objective of the Division’s Information Management, is the computerization of all process leading to a paperless transaction,” stated Mr. Flores.

Mr. Flores also explained that despite the challenges and limitations that the GRD encountered since its establishment, they are still being driven by their desire to contribute to the Institute’s mission, vision, and adhere to the quality policy of RITM, “still, we kept on working our day to day activities to fulfill our mandates to the best of our ability. We try to be the best of what we do within the standard of the Institute.”

by Ma. Patricia Lansang, Project Evaluation Officer II, Communication and Engagement Office