'Some SALN items may be kept private'

CABINET secretaries have the right to keep away from public sight items within their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth, Malacanang insisted Saturday  amid massive “redactions” observed despite these being public documents. 

“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,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement. 

“There are some who 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,” Abella added. 

But Freedom of Information advocates said the vetting by data protection officers made on public documents released by government offices mocked the FOI Executive Order by President Rodrigo Duterte.

On Friday, they raised concern over what they considered as an “epidemic of redaction” on documents concerning public officials, while the FOI-EO was in effect.

“We are sensing that some...officers are so spooked by the threat of huge penalties that they would commit, should commit, a breach of privacy rights,” Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism executive director Malou Mangahas told a press conference.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella

Mangahas, who co-convenes the Right to Know Right Now (R2KRN) coalition, cited larger amount of information blacked out by “data privacy officers” of the Malacañang Records Office when they released the December 2016 SALNs of Cabinet officials to Entrepreneur magazine upon request.

As reported by PCIJ’s Vino Lucero, the 29 SALNs given to the magazine in August 2017 bore “more significant” redactions compared to the documents acquired by the PCIJ in June 2016.

Abella insisted the move to blacken out sensitive information was to ensure that “the privacy and security of the official and their family,” and what was redacted “are not information on assets, liabilities, and net worth but personal data like family members, home address, among others.”

“We must take note that the current SALN form has not been amended to comply with the data privacy in consonance with the global requirements/standards,” he claimed. 

Ironically, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar—an early supporter of the FOI executive order—emerged as having the most types of detail redacted on his SALN: 10, namely Filer’s Address; Spouse’s Office Address; 

Name, Date of Birth, and Age of Unmarried Minor Children; Description of Real Properties; Exact Location of Real Properties; Acquisition Costs of Real Properties; Acquisition Costs/Amounts of Personal Properties; Outstanding Balance of Liabilities; Business Address of Business Interests and Financial Connections; and ID No. of Filer and/or Spouse.

Two other members of the Cabinet—Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial—meanwhile had nine types of detail redacted. 

These were blacked out in the SALNs of both Aguirre and Ubial: Filer’s Address; ID No. of Filer and/or Spouse; Acquisition Costs of Real Properties; Acquisition Costs/Amounts of Personal Properties; Exact Location of Real Properties; Outstanding Balance of Liabilities; and Spouse’s Office Address. 

Redacted in Aguirre’s SALN as well were Business Address of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Description of Real Properties. In Ubial’s these were also blacked out: Name of Creditor and Name, Date of Birth, and Age of Unmarried Minor Children. 

Eighteen or 60 percent of the SALNs reviewed each had between five and eight types of detail redacted. 

Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, meanwhile, had the least redactions on their SALNs: two each, the Filer’s Address and Amount of Personal Properties.

A total 167 redacted details were blackened out int the SALNs of the members of the Cabinet, with 28 of the SALNs had the acquisition costs or amounts of personal properties blacked out while in 24 the exact locations of real properties were redacted and 23 SALNs had blacked-out acquisition costs of real properties as well.

Abella insisted the new Data Privacy Act obliged Data Privacy officers 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,” he added. 

Topics: Cabinet secretaries , Statements of Assets , Liabilities , and Net Worth , Malacanang , Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella , Freedom of Information advocates , FOI Executive Order , President Rodrigo Duterte
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