Gordon, commission say data privacy can't be invoked in withholding summoned docs

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 26 2021 05:39 PM

MANILA - The Data Privacy law cannot be invoked in refusing to submit subpoenaed documents during government investigations, a Senate panel and the National Privacy Commission (NPC) have said, as the probe on the government's transactions with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. continues. 

In a statement last week, NPC Commissioner Raymund Liboro said that data privacy rights "should not be cited as an excuse to evade legal proceedings."

"We would like to reiterate that the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (DPA) does not prohibit the disclosure of personal or sensitive personal information (collectively, personal data) when necessary for purposes of complying with validly issued subpoenas by government investigating bodies," Liboro said.

"Data privacy rights should not be cited as an excuse to evade legal proceedings," he added. 

Pharmally's Twinkle Dargani and her brother Mohit Dargani have so far refused to hand over subpoenaed documents to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, citing the data privacy law. 

The documents are crucial into checking Pharmally's supposed deed of donations to the government as well as the firm's sales last year, senators said.

While the commission is advocating for data privacy among Filipinos, Liboro said this does not excuse people from cooperating with authorities as part of their legal obligation.

"Sensitive personal information may also be processed when provided for by existing laws and regulations, or necessary for establishment, exercise, or defense of legal claims, among others." 

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, agreed with Liboro and expressed his gratitude to the official for clarifying matters.

“We are glad that more people, both in the public and private sectors, and on their own initiative, speak up to uphold the rule of law,” he said on Tuesday.

"Liboro’s pronouncement has now cleared any dispute whether those invited to attend the Senate hearing can conveniently hide behind the law protecting data privacy rights," his statement added. 

Aside from the Data Privacy Act, Pharmally's executives have also invoked the Bank Secrecy Law and the Corporation Code that supposedly allow them to keep documents from public scrutiny. They said these were advised by their legal counsel. 

The Senate panel last week ordered the arrest of the Dargani siblings for their refusal to hand over subpoenaed documents. 

The two were not seen in their registered locations, the Senate Sargeant-At-Arms had said.

The Senate panel is investigating Pharmally after records showed that the PS-DBM awarded billions of pesos worth of government contracts to the company that only had less than a million pesos in paid-up capital.

Some senators earlier said the PS-DBM bought allegedly overpriced face masks and RT-PCR test kits from the company, whose executives are accused of fraudulent schemes in Taiwan, instead of procuring from local suppliers that were selling cheaper items.

The government denies there was overpricing and said the deals were above board.

The panel has so far recommended the filing of various charges against Pharmally's officers, Chinese businessman and former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang, and former budget Undersecretary Christopher Lao, among others, due to the allegedly anomalous transactions.

Gordon had said that public funds wasted on anomalous transactions could have been used for the benefits of health workers who are battling COVID-19 in the frontlines.


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