MANILA -- The government and civil society organizations (CSOs) are doing everything to harmonize the Freedom on Information (FOI) and the right to privacy. 

This was evident as the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and the Right to Know Right Now (R2KRN) Coalition conducted their workshop on “Strengthening Freedom of Information (FOI) Implementation: A Stakeholder Event” held Wednesday at the Oakwood Premier Joy-Nostalg in Pasig City. 

The R2KRN Coalition is composed of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Action for Economic Reform, Focus on the Global South, Check My School and Bantay Kita, among others. 

“The coalition does not want that the laws are not harmonized,” said Malou Mangahas, a co-convener of the R2KRN, during the panel discussion. 

Mangahas stressed that the R2KRN had been an advocate for the FOI Law such that the FOI Law is needed now more than ever, noting that, the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry had lobbied for it for security reasons.  

“Are the right to know and the FOI Executive Order less important than the right to privacy”, was one of the questions tackled during the panel discussion.
Mangahas pointed out that there should be no conflict between the FOI and the Right to Privacy such that they should be “complementary” with each other. 

“The right to privacy is the most comprehensive right because it encompasses several other rights,” she added. 

For his part, PCOO Assistant Secretary Kristian Ablan, the FOI Program Director, expounded that the application of the Data Privacy Act is one of the concerns of the officers during the workshop. 

“The Data Privacy Act and the list of exceptions are the guidelines as far as the SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth) repository agencies are concerned,” Ablan said. 

The repository agencies are the Supreme Court (SC) Court Administrator, Office of the President (OP), Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Office of the Ombudsman.
Ablan noted that under Executive Order No. 2, the OP is the only repository agency. 

Andrew Santiago, a participant from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), asked “if a foreigner or a foreign company is also covered by the FOI Executive Order.” 

Ablan replied that the Board of Investments (BOI) also brought up the same issue, saying that, it is rightly so, if the information requested is regularly made. 

“The Filipino citizens are empowered in the EO,” he said. 

On the other hand, Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan, of the Department of Education (DepEd) and former R2KRN lead convener, clarified that the DepEd does not require a court order for the release of SALN or certain information for a specific purpose, citing that only a DepEd employee invoked such a requirement. 

Likewise, National Privacy Commission (NPC) Commissioner Raymund Liboro told the participants that the NPC is fully dedicated to implement the Data Privacy Act, noting that, the Data Privacy Law did not dissolve the SALN Law and the Right to Privacy. 

“The PCOO and the NPC are approachable/accommodating as far as the SALN disclosure is concerned, especially with the rank-and-file government employees,” the R2KRN coalition stressed. (PNA)