Press Release
July 20, 2020

Drilon scores BuCor's lack of transparency, says death certificate not a protected information under Data Privacy Act

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, a former justice secretary, said that the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is wrong to invoke the Data Privacy Act for not disclosing the real conditions and reported deaths of inmates at the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP), saying that the fact of death is not sensitive personal information protected by the Data Privacy Act and that a death certificate is in fact a public document required to be filed upon any person's death.

BuCor Director Gerald Bantag said they are prohibited by the Data Privacy Act to reveal the names of persons deprived of liberty who allegedly died of COVID-19 disease.

Drilon, however, contradicted this claim, saying that the fact of death itself is not sensitive personal information protected by the Data Privacy Act.

"In fact, upon any person's death, there is a requirement to execute a death certificate which is a public document," Drilon said.

"Disclosing information about a prisoner's death is not a protected information under the Data Privacy Law, " Drilon said, adding: "The fact that a person is dead is not contemplated by the law."

Section 3 (l) of R. A. No 10173 enumerates sensitive personal information which must not be divulged. These are "an individual's race, ethnic origin, marital status, age, color, and religious, philosophical or political affiliations", "an individual's health, education, genetic or sexual life of a person, or to any proceeding for any offense committed or alleged to have been committed by such person, the disposal of such proceedings, or the sentence of any court in such proceedings", "social security numbers, previous or current health records, licenses or its denials, suspension or revocation, and tax returns; and "Specifically established by an executive order or an act of Congress to be kept classified".

"Ang hinihingi lang po natin ay impormasyon kung sino ang mga patay. That is factual," he added.

Drilon further explained: "Jurisprudence even provides that "We are satisfied that society would insist that the prisoner's expectation of privacy always yield to what must be considered a paramount interest in institutional security. We believe that it is accepted by our society that "[l]oss of freedom of choice and privacy are inherent incidents of confinement."

"Ano bang tinatago ng BuCor? Moreover, transparency is an effective mechanism to guard against abuses such as fake or simulated deaths," he stressed.

Drilon likewise said that to allow such is akin to giving BuCor a license as to who to declare dead and alive in one of the world's most crowded correctional facilities.

"It is dangerous and it is prone to different kinds of abuses. I am afraid it can be used to make prisoners disappear, cover up extra-judicial killings, and even to fake death," Drilon stressed.

"Disclosing information about prison deaths will not do any harm," Drilon said, adding: "Transparency is an effective mechanism to guard against abuses such as fake or simulated deaths."

"The BuCor has been subject of many controversies in the past - high profile inmates being spotted outside of prison or are able to leave unnoticed, special treatment being extended to high profile prisoners. Any doubts or danger of the inmates' deaths being simulated can be addressed through full transparency," Drilon stressed.

"I am not saying that this is happening but if we are not transparent, then the people will keep entertaining doubts about the veracity of these alleged deaths involving high-profile inmates," he clarified.

"They have valid reasons to doubt because of the situation today and the peculiar nature of handling the remains of the victims of COVID-19," Drilon added.

The minority leader said the matter of who is alive and dead in the NBP is a valid issue especially in this time of a pandemic.

"The people have a right to know. Given the reports of spread of the virus in the NBP, the people would want to find out the truth. Who is still alive and actively serving jail time in the NBP? Who has passed away? Those are valid questions," he added.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guverra said he would inquire about the reported deaths at the NBP and the protocols related to the disposal of dead bodies.

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