Mystery Deaths in Bilibid: Public Interest Trumps Privacy, Says Official

It's your right to know their names and details.
Photo/s: screenshot from Presidential Communications Operations Office Facebook video

Data privacy could not be used as a "blanket" to withhold information that falls under public interest, the head of the National Privacy Commission said Thursday. This includes the deaths of nine drug lords in the national penitentiary that stirred Twitter and sparked calls for official investigations.

The bodies of the nine were cremated without an autopsy. Twitter users in particular asked for details on one of the fatalities, Jaybee Sebastian, who accused Senator Leila de Lima of funding her election campaign with drug money raised from the National Bilibid Prisons. His testimony bostered a drug-dealing case that sent the lawmaker to jail.

“Ang mas tumitimbang ay ang issue ng public concern or public interest (What weighs more is the issue of public concern or public interest),” Data Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro said.

Under the Data Privacy Act, family members of the deceased have the right to know the circumstances of the passing, Liboro said. They can also assert the privacy rights of the deceased. However, if the identity of the deceased and the details surrounding the death are of public interest, the public has the right to know.


“May justification po yang public interest sa bagay na ito. Pagkat ang mga high-proifle PDLsn (persons deprived of liberty) po, by virtue of their association po sa mga nakaraang national issue, yung mga pagkakadikit po nila dyan, ay naging public interest na po siya o public concern,” he said, when asked about the nine deaths in Bilibid.

(Public interest is justified in this matter. High-profile PDLs, by virtue of their association in past national issues, the way they are attached, it has become public interest or public concern.)

The law serves as the basis for the kind of information that can be released and does not prohibit the disclosure of data, Liboro said.

“Hindi lang po ang proteksyon ng data ng isang indidibdwal, kung hindi kabilang po sa mandato ng DPA ay ang pagsisiguro po na merong pong malayang pagpalitan ng impormasyon ensuring the free flow of information,” he said.

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(Apart from protecting the data of an individual, it is part of the DPAs mandate to ensure that there is a free exchange of information, ensuring the free flow of information.)

“[Ang DPA] ay hindi po kumot na pwedeng ipamalabal po natin upang i-deny po ang freedom of the press o right of the people to know,” he clarified.

([The DPA] is not a blanket to be used to cover up to deny freedom of the press or right of the people to know.)

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