Malacañang on Saturday said President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet officials “still have the right to privacy” over certain items in their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).
Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella issued the statement after a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) showed that information in the SALNs of Duterte Cabinet members as of December 2016 were redacted or shaded with a black marker.
“While we uphold the principle of transparency and accountability in public service, those working in the government, such as members of the Cabinet, still have the right to privacy,” Abella said in a statement.
Abella noted that some people “may use the sensitive personal information and other data contained in the SALNs to harass people or commit fraud.”
“We therefore consider security concerns as valid issues,” the Palace official 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.
In stories published on Friday, September 22, the PCIJ reported that significant redactions were made in the copies of SALNs filed in December 2016 by Duterte Cabinet members.
The redactions in SALNs released to the media were in the form of black lines shading or covering relevant information.
For instance, the PCIJ said 28 of the 29 SALNs received by Entrepreneur Philippines “had the acquisition costs or amounts of personal properties blacked out.”
Meanwhile, in 24 SALNs, it noted that “the exact locations of real properties were redacted,” and in 23 SALNs, corresponding acquisition costs were likewise shaded.
The batch of SALNs that PCIJ received still had redactions, but these were limited to five items or fewer, including the exact locations of real properties.
The PCIJ said these redactions were a “deal-breaker” in implementing the Freedom of Information program in the executive branch.
In its report, the PCIJ pointed to Civil Service Commission 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,” PCIJ editor in chief Malou Mangahas said in a public forum on Friday organized by the Right to Know Right Now Coalition. PCIJ is a co-convenor of the coalition.