MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Saturday, September 23, defended the "right to privacy" of public servants, including Cabinet officials, over certain items in their statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALNs).
In a statement on Saturday, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said that while the government upholds transparency and accountability in public service, "those working in the government, such as members of the Cabinet, still have the right to privacy."
Abella feared that some people "may use the sensitive personal information and other data contained in the SALNs to harass people or commit fraud." These security concerns are valid issues, he added.
"With the Data Privacy Act in full force and effectivity this year, data protection officers are obliged to redact items in SALN to protect the right to privacy of all state workers, including Cabinet members. This is consistent with global data protection regulations," Abella said.
This statement comes after a series of reports by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) on SALNs. The PCIJ reports showed that some information in the SALNs of Duterte Cabinet members as of December 2016 were redacted or shaded with a black marker.
The PCIJ said that these redactions are a "deal-breaker" in implementing the Freedom of Information (FOI) program in the executive branch.
For instance, SALNs obtained by online news outlet Entrepreneur Philippines in August 2017 contained redactions of personal information like the declarant's address, as well as acquisition costs of personal and real properties. Journalists usually take these information into account when checking an official's lifestyle while in public office.
The batch of SALNs that PCIJ received still had redactions, but were limited to 5 items or fewer, including the exact locations of real properties.
In contrast, the SALNs filed by Duterte Cabinet members when they entered government in June 2016 had little to no redactions. If there were any, only the home address was withheld. These SALNs were released to media outlets, including Rappler.
In its report, the PCIJ pointed to Civil Service Commission (CSC) guidelines, which allow only one piece of information that may be redacted when a third party requests a government worker's SALN: the address of the declarant.
"It would be important to respect the Data Privacy Act...but we have asked them to consider that the Data Privacy Act doesn't include people in government," be it current or former ones, "when it comes to their functions and responsibilities [as public officials]," PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas explained on Friday, September 22, in a forum on the FOI roll-out. – Rappler.com
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.