National Privacy Commission: Some details in cabinet members' SALNs did not have to be redacted

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2017 06:30 PM

MANILA – An official on Tuesday said some details in the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of cabinet members did not have to be redacted. 

National Privacy Commission (NPC) Deputy Commissioner Ivy Patdu made the statement following a report that found several details on cabinet officials' SALNs blacked out despite restrictions under government guidelines. 

In a news briefing Tuesday, Patdu said the costs of government officials’ properties need not be redacted, noting that these are “not sensitive information.”

“[Therefore] there is no restriction, hindrance. There’s no need to redact this information because they are information that are covered by the law,” Patdu said.

She added: “In fact, the very first decision of the court which recognize privacy as a constitutional right is about the SALN ‘no. There, the court said that it’s not an invasion of privacy if you release information about the assets, liabilities, and net worth of a public official. But it still emphasizes that, you know, a public official is not bereft of any Constitutional protection.”

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said if requested, the Palace may issue new copies of SALNs disclosing certain details such as the acquisition costs of real properties and personal properties, following NPC guidance.

“The acquisition cost and the total net worth, the total assets and the total liabilities will be disclosed,” Ablan said in a news briefing in Malacañang.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has bared in a recent in-depth report that some details of Cabinet members' SALNs were heavily redacted. This while the Civil Service Commission’s guidelines only allow agencies to shade the declarant’s address “for purposes of security.”

The PCIJ said several redactions were made on the copies of SALNs, such as the description, exact location and acquisition costs of real properties, as well as the acquisition costs/amounts of personal properties.

Also redacted were the addresses of business interests and financial connections of the cabinet members, and outstanding balance of liabilities.

Under criticism, the Palace previously said the Data Privacy Act allows for the redaction of certain information in the SALNs of cabinet members.

But the PCIJ quoted in its report CSC Assistant Commissioner Ariel Ronquillo as saying that the SALN Law and CSC guidelines should prevail.

Meanwhile, Ablan sought more understanding for the SALN redactions, noting that “as we are implementing the Freedom of Information, we are also implementing the Data Privacy Act. And the whole implementation of the FOI program is a learning process.”

“So there will be some challenges along the way. The agencies who have mentioned that there are concerns in the disclosing of the SALN and other documents such as the personal data sheet, we actually sought advisory from the National Privacy Commission,” he said.

Ablan said the government’s SALN repositories, namely the Civil Service Commission, Office the President, Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court Office of the Court Administrator, and Office of the Ombudsman, shall meet in October to “conduct a review of the SALN guidelines and SALN form, which will address our concerns on redactions.”