Limits of data privacy | Inquirer Business
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Limits of data privacy

/ 04:01 AM October 26, 2021

Data privacy got an undeserved black eye at the hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee on the sale of medical supplies to the government by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.

Despite a measly subscribed capital stock of P625,000, no sales revenues in 2019, losses of P25,549 representing tax and license expenses and, this takes the cake, no track record of pharmaceutical-related businesses, Pharmally bagged P8 billion worth of COVID-19-related contracts.


Under normal circumstances, that feat would have made a good case study in business graduate schools and make Microsoft’s and Amazon’s success stories look puny.

But when the committee ordered the company’s executives to submit certain documents relating to those transactions, they refused and invoked the Data Privacy Act, among others, as justification for their refusal.


Worse, in a blatant show of disrespect to the committee, they skipped further participation in its hearings. Now, they’re on the run and face possible jail time for their contemptuous behavior.

That claim of data privacy protection was shot down by Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro who said the law “ … does not prohibit the disclosure of personal or sensitive information when necessary for purposes of complying with validly issued subpoenas by government investigating bodies. Data privacy rights should not be cited as an excuse to evade legal proceedings.”

It is unfortunate that the nature and scope of data privacy have been misinterpreted, distorted or given a totally different meaning by some quarters.

The law is clear on what personal or sensitive information are entitled to privacy protection and what may be disclosed, subject to compliance with certain procedural requirements.

For the guidance of those who may have a vague idea of data privacy, the following information may be disclosed or ordered disclosed:

First, about any person who is or was a former government officer or employee in relation to his or her positions or functions;

Second, about a person who is or was performing a service under a contract for a government institution in connection with the service performed, including the terms of the contract;


Third, about any discretionary benefit of a financial nature given to a person, such as a license or permit, including the name of that person and the exact nature of the benefit;

Fourth, when the information is processed for journalistic, artistic, literary or research purposes;

Fifth, when it is “necessary in order to carry out the functions of public authority, which includes the processing of personal data for the performance by the independent, central monetary authority and law enforcement and regulatory agencies of their constitutionally and statutorily mandated functions”;

Sixth, with regard to banks and financial institutions under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, for purposes of compliance with antimoney laundering and other related laws; and

Seventh, those originally collected from residents of foreign jurisdictions in accordance with their laws that are processed in the Philippines.

The committee’s order to Pharmally to produce its financial records on cost of sales and proof of payment of taxes falls squarely within the fifth exception. It is consistent with the power of Congress to conduct investigations in aid of legislation.

Since billions of pesos in public funds are suspected of being spent in violation of procurement procedures to purchase overpriced, obsolete or outdated medical products, the committee was perfectly justified to scrutinize the government’s transactions with Pharmally.

The wording of the fifth exception is simple. Any Filipino who has a fair understanding of English can understand it. And that includes the lawyers of the Pharmally executives who advised them to cite data privacy as justification for their refusal to submit certain financial records.

Is it any wonder then that the law profession seems to have a low trust rating in the public eye? INQ

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