'Data Privacy Act cannot be used to hide info on high-profile inmates' deaths due to COVID-19'

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
'Data Privacy Act cannot be used to hide info on high-profile inmates' deaths due to COVID-19'
This file photo shows the Bureau of Corrections in Muntinlupa City.
Philstar.com / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Data Privacy Act cannot be used to refuse to confirm the deaths of high-profile inmates like Jaybee Sebastian, privacy commissioner Raymund Liboro said.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, Liboro stressed that the “Data Privacy Act is not a cloak for denying the public’s right to know.”

“High-profile inmates like [Sebastian] had become public figures on account of their previous association with particular national issues in the past,” Liboro, chief of the National Privacy Commission, also said.

The Bureau of Corrections has since confirmed that Sebastian died of COVID-19 and that his remains were cremated according to health protocols for COVID-19 fatalities.

In an earlier interview with DZBB, Liboro said that confirming the death of Sebastian and other high-profile inmates is up to the discretion of the controller of information. In this case, they are the BuCor and the Department of Justice.

When reports broke out that nine high-profile inmates, including Sebastian, due to COVID-19, BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag on Sunday cited the Data Privacy Act in declining to confirm the names.

Liboro however said that public interest justifies the release of details surrounding the deaths of these inmates.

“There is justified public interest to release information like details surrounding the deaths from COVID-19 of these high-profile inmates, especially when the personal information being sought is linked to issues already on the minds of the public,” he added.

Sebastian was a convicted car thief and had been accused of running an illegal drug trade from within the walls of the New Bilibid Prison.

Mandatory cremation for COVID-19 deaths

Bantag, in a meeting with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday afternoon, confirmed that Sebastian was cremated following BuCor protocols on deaths due to COVID-19.

In a statement, DOJ said: “[Bantag] also informed [Guevarra] of the protocol followed by the BuCor in the event of an inmate’s death from COVID-19, including the mandatory cremation of the cadaver within 12 hours to prevent the further spread of infection.”

DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete, also department spokesperson, meanwhile said they are waiting for BuCor to present death certificates of the other eight high-profile inmates who also died due to the coronavirus.

Guevarra is also set to order the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the matter, “to dispel doubt regarding the death of PDL Sebastian and the eight others.”

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