Free­dom of in­for­ma­tion vs data pri­vacy

Tempo - - Editorial -

M

ALACAÑANG has acted swiftly to nip a grow­ing con­tro­versy over the State­ments of As­sets, Li­a­bil­i­ties, and Net­worth (SALN) of pub­lic of­fi­cials. The Philip­pine Cen­ter for In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism (PCIJ) had asked Mala­cañang for the SALNs of Cabi­net mem­bers. The SALNs were duly re­leased but some parts had been blocked out by pen­tel pen – redacted or edited – such as the ac­qui­si­tion costs, de­scrip­tions, and other de­tails of prop­er­ties held by the Cabi­net mem­bers.

It ap­pears that some of­fi­cial in the Mala­cañang Records Sec­tion or the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fice had blacked out the data, in line, pur­port­edly, with the Data Pri­vacy Law. The PCIJ counted 167 blacked-out items in 29 SALNs it had re­ceived.

Sen. An­to­nio Tril­lanes IV filed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the Se­nate to look into the is­sue. Last Tues­day, the Se­nate, in ple­nary ses­sion, re­ferred the mat­ter to the Blue Rib­bon Com­mit­tee and the Civil Ser­vice Com­mit­tee. Be­fore the day was over, how­ever, Pres­i­den­tial Spokesman Ernesto Abella as­sured that there would be full pub­lic dis­clo­sure of the as­sets of Cabi­net mem­bers. “If you check again, they will give you the full,” he told the PCIJ.

Deputy Com­mis­sioner Ivy Patdu of the Na­tional Pri­vacy Com­mis­sion said the wealth data of a pub­lic ser­vant should not be blacked out in SALNs re­leased to me­dia. Some data may prop­erly be with­held, such as home ad­dresses and the names of mi­nor chil­dren, but SALNs are “not sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.” They are data ac­tu­ally re­quired by law to be pro­duced, she said.

Be­fore Mala­cañang’s swift ac­tion over­turn­ing the pre­vi­ous ac­tion of black­ing out por­tions of Cabi­net mem­bers’ SALNs, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Franklin Drilon called for a re­view of the SALN law to clar­ify any pos­si­ble con­flict with the Data Pri­vacy Law. This may no longer be nec­es­sary with the Na­tional Pri­vacy Com­mis­sion’s clar­i­fi­ca­tion and Mala­cañang’s quick ac­tion.

Congress, how­ever, may well heed Pres­i­dent Duterte’s ap­peal when he is­sued on July 23, 2016, the sec­ond Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der of his new ad­min­is­tra­tion man­dat­ing the full dis­clo­sure by all Ex­ec­u­tive of­fices. He said then his ex­ec­u­tive or­der could cover only the Ex­ec­u­tive branch of the gov­ern­ment. Congress would have to en­act a law cov­er­ing the en­tire gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing the Leg­is­la­ture and the Ju­di­ciary.

Over a year has passed since that ex­ec­u­tive or­der. Congress should now find the time to en­act the law sug­gested by Pres­i­dent Duterte to make Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion a re­al­ity in the en­tire Philip­pine gov­ern­ment.

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