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Chapter: 

III. Privacy issues

Financial privacy

Section 2 of the Bank Secrecy Law of 1955 (RA No. 1405)1 protects deems all deposits of whatever nature with banks or banking institutions in the Philippines, including investments in bonds issued by the Government of the Philippines, its political subdivisions and its instrumentalities, to be of an absolutely confidential nature protected from examination or inquiry by any person, government official, bureau or office, except upon written permission of the depositor, or in cases of impeachment, or upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or in cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation.

However, where it is established that there is probable cause that the deposits or investments involved are in any way related to a money laundering offense, Section 11 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Republic Act No. 9160, s. 2001)2 empowers the Anti-Money Laundering Council to obtain a court order to inquire into or examine any particular deposit or investment with any banking institution or non-bank financial institution.

The Philippines  bank secrecy laws have recently been scrutinized, during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona, where the defense argued for the non-inclusion of Corona's dollar accounts in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) he submitted to the government. Concerns were raised that Corona's argument for financial privacy might set a precedent that would encourage other public officials to only comply with minimum standards. The Corona impeachment trial fuelled a debate about whether the Filipino government ought to pursue measures that encourage voluntary transparency among its officials beyond the legal minimums.3

A government official or employee is directed by Section 17, Article XI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution to declare his/her assets, liabilities, and net worth. The Administrative Code of 1987, the Local Government Code of 1991, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees reiterate the same.4 The Constitution and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials (Republic Act 6713) have also required that these declarations be disclosed to the public.5

However, the Supreme Court resolved that the independence of the Judiciary is as constitutionally and important as the right to information, which is subject to the limitations provided by the law. Restricting the release of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs) of justices and judges aims to shield them from acts that may result in endangering, diminishing or destroying their independence and objectivity in the performance of their judicial functions.6

As a result of the debate around the Corona impeachment trial, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) has formed a technical working group in order to revise the SALN being used. CSC Chairman Francisco Duque, who heads the working group, said that reviewing the SALN will result in clearer guidelines for government officials and employees and avoid token compliance.7 Meanwhile, the Office of the Ombudsman has released guidelines that ease the public s access to the SALNs of government officials.8

Both Houses of Congress are looking to review the Bank Secrecy Law along with the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines (FCDA). It was admitted that banking practices have come under scrutiny under the impeachment trial and the legislature is looking to put in place a mechanism promoting openness and transparency in the public sector.

Regulatory mechanisms

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is the government agency responsible for the supervision and implementation of the telecommunications sector in the Philippines. According to the NTC s Director Edgardo Cabarios, there is no Commission-issued order or guidelines on protection of privacy; rather, the NTC believes that constitutional and statutory protections, and terms of service agreements, are sufficient to protect privacy in the Philippines.9

The Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) was established by Executive Order 47 in 2011.10 The ICTO replaced the Commission on Information and Communications Technology. The ICTO is the primary policy and regulatory entity of the executive branch of the government, charged with promoting and integrating strategic ICT systems and reliable communications facilities and services. The ICTO is also responsible for managing the concerns of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).

Medical Privacy

In 2005, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) adopted a Declaration on the Rights and Obligations of the Patient.11 In accordance with the Declaration, the patient has the right not to be subjected to exposure, private or public, by either photography, publications, video-taping, discussion, medical teaching, or any other means that would otherwise tend to reveal his person and identity and the circumstances under which he was, is, or will be, under medical or surgical care or treatment.

Also included are provisions requiring that the details of the patient s medical condition remain confidential even after death and that all the patient s identifiable data be protected.

In addition to the Declaration, a number of legislative instruments relate to privacy and confidentiality in the health sector. The Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 199812 provides that all health professionals, medical instructors, workers, employers, recruitment agencies, insurance companies, data encoders, and other custodians of any medical record, file, data, or test results are directed to strictly observe confidentiality in the handling of all medical information, particularly the identity and status of persons with HIV.

It is also incumbent upon the State to provide a mechanism for anonymous HIV testing that guarantees anonymity and medical confidentiality in the conduct of such tests. Hospitals, clinics, laboratories, and testing centresfor HIV/AIDS are required to adopt measures to assure the confidentiality of medical record, personal data, file, including all data which may be accessed from various data banks or information systems.

The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act 201113 provides for balance of access to information and individual privacy on reproductive health needs and concerns. Similarly, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,14 which requires the submission of specific information related to dangerous drugs and chemicals, clearly provides for the confidentiality of records of drug dependents undergoing rehabilitation.

Gender and privacy

The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (RA No. 9262)15 protects women and their children against physical violence, sexual abuse, psychological violence, economic abuse, threats, and other forms of abuse that directly and or indirectly affect their lives. Under the Act, healthcare providers attending to victims  needs are required to safeguard records. All records concerning cases of violence against women and their children, including those in the barangay, shall be confidential and all public officers and employees and public or private clinics and hospitals shall respect the victim's right to privacy.

The Family Courts Act 1997 (RA No. 8369)16 established family courts and granted them exclusive jurisdiction of child and family cases. The Act requires that all hearings and conciliation of cases concerning children and family are treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's and the family's dignity and worth, and respect their privacy at all stages of the proceedings. Records of the cases must be dealt with utmost confidentiality and the identity of parties must not be divulged unless necessary and with authority of the judge.

Registration of SIM cards

There have been proposals (e.g., Villars SB 266) to require the registration of mobile SIM cards to replicate a Singapore Government requirement. However, for numerous reasons the Philippines has refrained from adopting such requirements. Critics have pointed out that registration threatens the right to privacy of communications, as the government becomes a third party to the contracts to which consumers consent when buying or using SIM cards from telcos.17 There have also been concerns that SIM registration could trigger the sending of more spam texts, including prank calls and scams.18

Proponents of the scheme point out that SIM registration would deter the use of cellphones in the commission of crimes;19 and would create no extra technical burden, since post-paid subscribers already register their SIM cards.20 Those in favour of the system argue that it allows for increased accountability,21 and it eases the process of replacement or deactivation when the phone is stolen or lost.22

National ID Systems

UMID System: In late 2011, after calls from Senator Panfilo Lacson for a national ID card system to curb criminality,23 the UMID system was introduced. The Unified Multi-Purpose Identification Card (UMID) combines ID cards for Social Security System (SSS), Government Social Insurance System (GSIS), Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig). It was developed to reduce the costs inherent in maintaining redundant ID systems and databases in government as well as to streamline processes for citizens. All data collected for UMID are treated as confidential and shall not be shared or disclosed without the consent of the individual concerned or as required by law or court order.24

ePasaporte: The Philippine ePasaporte features microchip technology, specifically an integrated circuit (chip) embedded in its pages that contains the data that are essential in verifying the identity of the passport holder. The ePasaporte stores a digital image of the passport photograph that can be read with face recognition technology to verify the identity of the passport holder. It also holds the fingerprints of the passport holder, captured using the Automated Fingerprint Verification System (AFIS). It contains a digitised secondary photo, and an electronic print of the holder s signature. Finally, it contains overt and hidden security features such as Invisible Personal Information (IPI), letter screen, micro printing, and ultraviolet reactive ink, among others.25

The ePasaporte project was controversial from its inception. Supposedly a project under Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) terminated its contract with BCA International, a Philippine-Thai company, for the manufacture of machine-readable passports and visas. DFA s termination of this contract was due to BCA s inability to implement the project after five years and its financial incapacity to carry out the project. This decision was upheld and deemed legal by the Supreme Court, which also allowed DFA to implement its ePasaporte project with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) instead. The Supreme Court further opined that  government can terminate a BOT agreement, even without fault on the part of the project proponent. 26

Though the ePasaporte project has now been completed, the migrants  rights group Migrants International has stressed, that the project still has unresolved issues, such as an alleged PHP50 overcharge for the passport laminates.27

Freedom of Information

One of the lessons learned during the Corona impeachment trial is the need in the Philippines for a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Freedom of information legislation can help create a culture of accountability and trust by becoming a powerful tool by enhancing citizen participation in governance thereby deterring corruption.28In early 2012 a FOI bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, but it is still awaiting parliamentary assent. The FOI bill seeks to impose speedy procedures for obtaining documents of high public interest such as the SALNs of government officials. As of October 2012, the FOI bill is still pending approval on first reading before the committee on public information after the committee chair Representative Ben Evardone failed to put the bill to a vote, while the counterpart bill in the Senate was endorsed to the plenary in June.29

For its part, the Aquino Administration feels that the government has ensured that transparency and accountability are upheld in governance while the FOI is pending passage. One such measure is the Budget ng Bayan, where the government s budgets and disbursements can be accessed online.30 Moreover, the Administration is of the opinion that the passage of the FOI bill lies with the legislature since it has already submitted its recommendations regarding the bill.31

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), a Philippine media watchdog, has urged Congress to pass the Malaca ang version of the FOI bill which they say is not perfect, but is generally acceptable to the media and civil society groups.32

Footnotes