THE Senate chief prober looking into the accountability of erring public officials on Tuesday cited the stand taken by National Privacy Commissioner (NPC) Raymund Enriquez Liboro affirming that the law on data privacy rights cannot be invoked just to dodge legal proceedings.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Public Accountability hearing pandemic fund misuse involving controversial supplier Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., hailed Liboro’s stand clarifying the issue of whether those invited to testify at a Senate inquiry can “conveniently hide behind the law by invoking data privacy rights.”
“We are glad that more people, both in the public and private sectors, and on their own initiative, speak up to uphold the rule of law,” Gordon said, adding, “Liboro’s initiative and insights are greatly appreciated by the Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) and, if I may speak for the whole, by the Senate.”
The senator recalled that Liboro made it clear the 2012 Data Protection Act cannot be invoked in refusing to comply with subpoenas issued by government investigating bodies and evade legal proceedings.
The law, he said, “does not prohibit the disclosure of personal or sensitive personal information (collective or personal data) when necessary for purposes of complying with validly issued subpoenas by government investigating bodies.”
Gordon noted that Liboro’s pronouncement came as the committee is in the midst of investigating the allegedly anomalous multi-billion transactions the government entered with Pharmally for the purchase of face masks, shields and Covid testing kits.
The senator rued that Pharmally executives and other resource persons have been refusing to disclose information and provide documents on the basis of, among others, the Data Protection Act of 2012.
Gordon recalled that Pharmally’s corporate secretary Mohit Dargani, and its president Twinkle Dargani have been cited in contempt and were ordered arrested for refusing to submit documents vital to the ongoing Senate investigation.
He noted that Pharmally Director Lincoln Ong had also repeatedly refused to divulge information, citing what he referred to as “trade secret” when his company was able to corner at least P8.7 billion in contracts to supply Covid-19-related supplies even though it is a startup with a paid-up capital of P625,000.
Moreover, Gordon recalled that President Duterte’s friend and former economic adviser Michael Yang also refused to disclose vital information about his alleged dealings with Pharmally, which he purportedly financed to corner big government contracts.
Another supplier, Tiger Phil Marketing Corporation, through its president Albert Sy was also reported to have declined to divulge vital information as to where he sourced the face masks he sold to Pharmally, claiming that he merely got them from the “Chinese community.”
Senate probers noted that based on the Commission on Audit report in 2020, the Procurement Service – Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) had ordered 114.95 million pieces of surgical masks and 1.32 million pieces of face shields in April and May 2020.
Senators were told that Pharmally sold these facemasks at P27.72 per piece to PS-DBM despite the availability of cheaper items from other suppliers; and also sold personal protective equipment at P1,910 each when the market price was P945.00 only, Gordon added.