The head of the National Privacy Commission (NPC) has refuted the claim of Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director Gerald Bantag that the government cannot reveal the names of high-profile inmates who died due to Covid-19 because of data privacy prohibitions.
“The Data Privacy Act is not a cloak for denying the public’s right to know,” NPC chair Raymund Liboro said in statement on Monday, July 20.
Liboro said there is sufficient reason to disclose the names of high-profile inmates like JB Sebastian as they had become public figures on account of their previous association with particular national issues in the past.
“There is a justified public interest to release information like details surrounding the deaths from Covid-19 of these high-profile inmates, especially when the personal information being sought is linked to issues already on the minds of the public,” Liboro added.
Bantag has come under fire for refusing to confirm the identities of a number of high-profile inmates such as Sebastian who had died due to Covid-19 at the National Bilibid Prison.
“Indeed there are PDL (persons deprived of liberty) who died due to Covid-19. However, as much as we want to inform the public with respect to the names of PDL who died due to Covid-19, the Data Privacy Act prohibits us from doing so,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Sen. Franklin Drilon, however, said the BuCor is wrong to invoke the Data Privacy Act for not disclosing the real conditions and reported deaths of inmates at the NBP, saying that the fact of death is not sensitive personal information protected by the law and that a death certificate is in fact a public document required to be filed upon any person’s death.
“In fact, upon any person’s death, there is a requirement to execute a death certificate which is a public document,” Drilon said. “Disclosing information about a prisoner’s death is not a protected information under the Data Privacy Law. The fact that a person is dead is not contemplated by the law.”
Section 3 (l) of RA 10173 or the Data Privacy Act enumerates sensitive personal information which must not be divulged. These are “an individual’s race, ethnic origin, marital status, age, color, and religious, philosophical or political affiliations”, “an individual’s health, education, genetic or sexual life of a person, or to any proceeding for any offense committed or alleged to have been committed by such person, the disposal of such proceedings, or the sentence of any court in such proceedings”, “social security numbers, previous or current health records, licenses or its denials, suspension or revocation, and tax returns; and “Specifically established by an executive order or an act of Congress to be kept classified”.
Drilon commented: “Ano bang tinatago ng BuCor? Moreover, transparency is an effective mechanism to guard against abuses such as fake or simulated deaths.” He likewise said that to allow such is akin to giving BuCor a license as to who to declare dead and alive in one of the world’s most crowded correctional facilities.
“It is dangerous and it is prone to different kinds of abuses. I am afraid it can be used to make prisoners disappear, cover up extra-judicial killings, and even to fake death,” Drilon stressed. “Disclosing information about prison deaths will not do any harm. Transparency is an effective mechanism to guard against abuses such as fake or simulated deaths.”