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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report

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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report 2006

Title Page Previous Next Contents | Country Reports >Republic of the Philippines

Republic of the Philippines

Article III of the Philippine Constitution contains the Bill of Rights. Section 1 of the Bill of Rights states that the "Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity."[4052] Section 2 protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose ... shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."[4053] Privacy is addressed in Section 3(1), which states that "privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law."[4054] It further states that "any evidence obtained in violation of this or the preceding section shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding." Section 7 grants Filipinos the right to gain access to "information on matters of public concern ... and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development."[4055]

Data Protection Framework

The Government Data Privacy Protection Act of 2007 and Administrative Order 8 (AO), are two pieces of pending legislation that would protect data privacy both in the public and private sectors.[4056] The Data Privacy Protection bill ensures the security of data in the government’s possession, while the AO seeks to cover private sector data handling practices.

The Government Data Privacy Protection Act seeks to protect personally identifiable information held by government agencies. The bill requires agencies to use reliable encryption for databases. Agencies must also secure the necessary contractual obligations from private contractors who might access or participate in the data processing. Access to sensitive data, such as financial information, requires security clearance, and off-site access requires approval by the head of the government agency.[4057]

Recognizing the growing market for business data processing outsourcing, the Department of Trade and Industry issued the AO in 2006. The “Guidelines for the Protection of Personal Data in Information and Communications System in the Private Sector” provides detailed principles and rules on personal data protection for the private sector entities and data protection certifiers.[4058] Section 2.3 sets out that the Guidelines apply to all private sector entities’ practices “without regard whether that personal data is of local origin or from foreign countries.”[4059] The Guidelines require that (i) collection and processing of personal data for specified and legitimate purposes; (ii) data is processed fairly, accurately and lawfully; (iii) information is up to date and accurate in every respect; (iv) data is retained only for as long as necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it is collected; and (v) the data subjects have rights to access, rectify and ensure the destruction of the data.[4060]

Despite the lack of a current data protection law, there is a recognized right of privacy in civil law.[4061] Article 26 of the Civil Code states that "every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons. The following and similar acts, though they may not constitute a criminal offense, shall produce a cause of action for damages, prevention and other relief: (1) Prying into the privacy of another's residence; (2) Meddling with or disturbing the private life or family relations of another; (3) Intriguing to cause another to be alienated from his friends; (4) Vexing or humiliating another on account of his religious beliefs, lowly station in life, place of birth, physical defect, or other personal condition."[4062] Article 32(11) of the Civil Code states that "any public officer or employee, or any private individual, who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates or in any manner impedes or impairs the privacy of communication and correspondence shall be liable to the latter for damages."[4063]

The Philippines has only one law on data transfer, Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1718 entitled "Providing for Incentives in The Pursuit of Economic Development Programs by Restricting The Use of Documents and Information Vital to The National Interest in Certain Proceedings and Processes." While the law was passed in 1980, it lacks force because rules and regulations have not been issued to allow enforcement. Broadly, P.D. 1718 prohibits the export of all documents and information from the Philippines to other countries that may adversely affect the interests of Philippine corporations, individuals, or government agencies. P.D. 1718 contains exceptions for exportation of information that are a matter of form, in connection with business transactions or negotiations that require them, in compliance with international agreements, or made pursuant to authority granted by the designated representative of the President.[4064]

Statutory Rules Related to Privacy

Section 5 of the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998, stipulates that "any stage of the investigation, prosecution and trial of a complaint for rape, the police officer, the prosecutor, the court and its officers, as well as the parties to the complaint shall recognize the right to privacy of the offended party and the accused." It further states that a police officer, prosecutor or court may order a closed-door investigation, prosecution or trial and that the name and personal circumstances of the offended party and/or the accused, or any other information tending to establish their identities, and such circumstances or information on the complaint shall not be disclosed to the public.[4065] Section 3 provides for the establishment of a rape crisis center in every province and city "for the purpose of: ensuring the privacy and safety of rape victims."[4066]

Section 8 of the Proposed Rule on Juveniles in Conflict (the Rule) with the Law stipulates that "the right of the juvenile to privacy shall be protected at all times. All measures necessary to promote this right shall be taken, including the exclusion of the media."[4067] Section 9 of the Rule, dealing with the fingerprinting and photographing of a juvenile, states "while under investigation, no juvenile in conflict with law shall be fingerprinted or photographed in a humiliating and degrading manner," and stipulates procedural guidelines such as separate storage of fingerprint files from adult files; restricted access by prior authority of the Family Court; and automatic destruction if no charges are laid or when the juvenile reaches the age of majority (21).[4068] Section 26(k) of the Rule confers a duty on the Family Court to respect the privacy of minors during all stages of the proceedings.[4069]

The Local Government Code of the Philippines[4070] provides that all barangay[4071] "proceedings for settlement shall be public and informal provided that the . . . chairman . . . may upon request of a party, exclude the public from the proceedings in the interest of privacy, decency, or public morals."[4072] Section 14 of Alien Social Integration Act of 1995[4073] provides that "information submitted by an alien applicant pursuant to this Act, shall be used only for the purpose of determining the veracity of the factual statements by the applicant or for enforcing the penalties prescribed by this Act."[4074]

The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees[4075] mandates the disclosure of public transactions and guarantees access to official information, records or documents. Agencies must act on a request within 15 working days from receipt of the request. Complaints against public officials and employees who fail to act on request can be filed with the Civil Service Commission or the Office of the Ombudsman.

Bank records are protected by the Bank Secrecy Act[4076] and the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act.[4077] The acts provide that deposits with banks or banking institutions are confidential and may not be examined, inquired, or looked into absent "exceptional circumstances." Those circumstances include: the written permission of the depositor, cases of impeachment, court orders in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of litigation, and cases covered by the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.[4078] The Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 allows exceptions to the Bank Secrecy Act and the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act.[4079] Section 9(c) of the Act requires banks, insurance companies, financial institutions, and "other entities administering or otherwise dealing in currency, commodities, or financial derivatives"[4080] to report to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas all transactions (including series or combinations of transactions) in excess of PHP four million (~USD 75,000).[4081]

The institution does not have to report the transaction if it involves a "properly identified client and the amount is commensurate with the business or financial capacity of the client; or those with an underlying legal or trade obligation, purpose, origin, or economic justification."[4082] The Act does provide neither explicit definitions of a "properly identified client," nor a method for determining values commensurate with a particular financial capacity. Those who are compelled to report covered transactions to the AMLC are also prohibited from communicating that they have made such a report to anyone.[4083] Those who do communicate or publish the existence of a report or any information connected with one are criminally liable.[4084] In 2003, the Act was amended to allow the AMLC unfettered access to deposits accounts without a court order.[4085]

The Electronic Commerce Act of 2000 was signed into law in May 2000, shortly after the ILOVEYOU e-mail virus was traced to a hacker in the Philippines, focusing international attention on the country's cyberlaw regime.[4086] Section 33 of the Act mandates a minimum fine of PHP 100,000 (~USD 1,900) and a prison term of six months to three years for unlawful and unauthorized access to computer systems. Section 31 provides that only individuals with legal right of possession shall be granted access to electronic files or electronic keys. Section 32 imposes an obligation of confidentiality on persons receiving electronic data, keys, messages, or other information not to convey it to any other person.[4087]

National Identity Card System

The Supreme Court ruled in July 1998 that Administrative Order No. 308, the Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System, introduced by former President Ramos in 1996, was unconstitutional. The Court found the order would "put our people's right to privacy in clear and present danger .... No one will refuse to get this identity card for no one can avoid dealing with government. It is thus clear as daylight that without the ID, a citizen will have difficulty exercising his rights and enjoying his privileges." While stating that all laws invasive of privacy would be subject to "strict scrutiny," the Court also was careful to note that, "the right to privacy does not bar all incursions to privacy."[4088] Then-president Joseph Estrada reiterated his support for the use of a national identification system in August 1998, stating that only criminals are against a national ID.[4089] Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas authorized the National Statistics Office (NSO) to proceed to use the population reference number (PRN) for the Civil Registry System-Information Technology Project (CRS-ITP) on August 14, claiming that it is not covered by the decision.[4090]

However, President Gloria Arroyo has stepped up efforts to revive the national ID scheme. Presidential spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, was quoted by the Manila Times of December 1, 2003 as asserting the necessity of the ID system for "peace and order," to facilitate transactions, and to reduce the number of IDs currently required.[4091] Bunye has sought to allay privacy concerns by explaining that, "the data that we would give once we apply for this ID are the information that we usually provide when applying for an ATM card or an SSS (Social Security System) ID."[4092]

A July 2006 Supreme Court decision upheld the constitutionality of the new national ID scheme (Executive Order 420), stating that it does not infringe upon privacy rights The Supreme Court stated that the scheme is constitutional “because the ID system envisioned applies only to executive-branch workers over which the President exercises supervision and control.” It did not see the new identification system as a usurpation of the powers of Congress. However, critics predict that this more limited identification system will form the basis for yet another introduction of a national ID scheme. [4093]

The use of biometric technologies has been rising in the Philippines. Since March of 1996, dozens of companies and government agencies have adopted fingerscan technologies in applications ranging from time management and payroll systems to security access control. Many companies use the technology primarily to reduce fraudulent time card punching.[4094] Banks use the technology to reduce fraudulent transactions and to promote security. Additionally, GTE and IriScan, Inc. introduced iris-scan technology in 1998 to ensure the security of online transactions. Other uses of biometric technology in the Philippines include the dispensation of health care and social services; privacy systems for database and records protection; travel security systems with passport, ticket, and baggage verification; business, residence, and vehicle security with access and operator authentication; processing and circulation control in the corrections or prison environment; and portable systems for on-scene recognition of individuals for use in law enforcement.[4095] National ID proposals also typically include fingerprints as part of the information available on the ID card.[4096]

Wiretapping and Surveillance Rules

The Act to Prohibit and Penalize Wire Tapping and Other Related Violations of the Privacy of Communication and for Other Purposes[4097] contains a notwithstanding clause that supersedes all inconsistent statutes.[4098] Section 1 states that all parties to a communication must give permission for a recorded wiretap or intercept and makes it illegal to knowingly possess any recording made in prohibition of this law, unless it is evidence for a trial, civil or criminal.[4099] Section 2 assesses liability for any person who contributes to the actions described in Section 1.[4100] Section 3 provides certain exceptions to the conditions found in Sections 1 and 2 but adopts stringent criteria for wiretap warrants, including the identity of the wiretap target; who may execute the warrant; reasonable grounds that a crime has been, is or will be committed; and, a reasonable belief that the evidence obtained via the wiretap will aid in a conviction or prevention of a crime.[4101] Further, predicate offenses – or offenses for which a court may authorize a wiretap – are limited to several particularly onerous severities.[4102] Section 4 states that any communication obtained in violation of this Act shall not be admissible as evidence in any court.

Despite the legal prohibitions on wiretapping, illegal wiretaps appear to be a continuing problem. In June 2005, charges were filed against a high ranking government official for illegally taping a conversation of President Arroyo.[4103] The “Hello, Garci” scam revealed various conversations relating to the party list elections. Samuel Ong, the former deputy director of National Bureau of Investigation claimed of having the "master tape" containing conversations between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

The House Committees looking into the wiretapping of telephone calls between President Arroyo and an election official believed to be Virgilio Garcillano completed their joint hearing in January 2006. The final report concludes that no substantive evidence could be found that could lead to invoke “impeachment complaints against the President.”[4104] The incident has heightened awareness surveillance and wiretapping threats within the Philippine government.[4105]

While restrictions on search and seizure within private homes are generally respected, searches without warrants do occur. More recently, Communist organizations have complained of a "pattern of surveillance" of their activities.[4106] Members of the Bayan Muna political party reported that offices and a clinic catering to their members were ransacked.[4107]

Anti-Terrorism Measures

Terrorism has been a continued threat for the Philippines government. There were bomb attacks by Islamist terrorists in March and April 2003.[4108] Part of the government's anti-combat terrorism measures has been the 2003 installation of an Airport Identification Computer System at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.[4109] The system called PISCES (Personal Identification SecuritySecure Comparison and Evaluation System) was designed to screen for potential terrorists attempting to travel to the United States while they are still in their country of origin's airport. PISCES collates and processes facial images, fingerprints, and biographical information and is purportedly linked to US government databases, allowing for exchange of passenger information.[4110]

In February 2005, there were three terrorist bombings in three Philippine cities. The "Valentine's Day bombings" took place in Makati, Davao, and General Santos.[4111] The bombings led to the creation of an anti-terrorism bill, and An Act to Secure the State and Protect Our People from Terrorism was enacted on July 17, 2007.[4112] Despite criticism from various human rights watch groups and politicians, the government seems adamant on its anti-terror policy. "[The Act] enhances the safety and domestic security of our country by giving us more legal power to prosecute those who commit any acts of terror on our people," said Ignacio R. Bunye, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman, in his weekly column.[4113] Bunye also stated that the Act does not violate the human rights and civil liberties.

However, the extensive protests raise allegations that the law violates constitutionally protected human rights, and could potentially be used for political purposes. “We will file a petition for certiorari and prohibition and also seek a temporary restraining order on the implementation of this law with the (SC) in the coming week with the strong belief that the justices will protect civil liberties,” stated Renato Reyes, spokesman for the fringe Bayan Muna political party.[4114]

Other critics, including the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, raised serious apprehensions over the excessive increase in the police powers regarding arrest, surveillance, wiretap and seizures.[4115] Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, the mayor of San Juan City (Metro Manila) criticized the legislation by ascribing it as “effectively undeclared martial law.”[4116]

Some have argued that the Act could negatively influence the ongoing peace negotiations between the Communist Party and the government. “They are very vulnerable to be labeled as communists and be subjected to attacks as has happened to several victims of extrajudicial executions,” said a joint statement by a group of independent observers monitoring the peace talks.[4117]

Open Government

The Philippines does not have a Freedom of Information Act; the Supreme ruled in 1987 that the rights to information contained in the Constitution could be applied directly without the need for an additional Act.[4118] The Constitution states an explicit right to access to information:

The right of the people to information of matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records and documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.[4119]

Further, the Constitution provides that:

Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.[4120]

The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and its implementing regulations determine the procedures for access to official information, records or documents. The Act sets a policy of "full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest." Officials must act on a request within 15 working days from receipt of the request. The rules create exemptions for national security and foreign affairs, information that would cause imminent harm to an individual, privileged information or information exempted by another law, drafts or decisions, orders, rulings, policy, decisions, memoranda, and information that would intrude into personal privacy, impede law enforcement and cause financial instability.[4121]

International Obligations

The Philippines became a member of the United Nations Organization on October 24, 1945[4122] and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1986.[4123]

[4052] Constitution of the Philippines, Art. III, § 1.
[4053] Id. at § 2.
[4054] Id. at § 3(1).
[4055] Id. at § 7.

[4056] Government Data Privacy Protection Act of 2007, Bill no. 2678, Senate of Philippines, 13 the Congress, available at
<>. Department of Trade and Industry, Guidelines for the Protection of Personal Data in Information and Communications System in the Private Sector, Administrative Order 8, available at <>.

[4057] Government Data Privacy Protection Act of 2007, supra.

[4058] <>.

[4059] Id.
[4060] Id.

[4061] Ople v. Torres, 293 S.C.R.A. 150 (S.C., July 23, 1998) (Phil.).
[4062] Civil Code, Art. 26.
[4063] Id. at Art. 32(11).

[4064] Christopher Lim, E-com Legal Guide: The Philippines,” Baker & McKenzie, Manila, January 2001, available at <>.

[4065] Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998, No. 8505, § 5.
[4066] Id. § 3(d).

[4067] Proposed Rule on Juveniles in Conflict With the Law A. M. NO. 02-1-18-SC (April 15, 2002), available at <>, § 8.
[4068] Id. at § 9.
[4069] Id. at § 26.

[4070] Local Government Code of the Philippines.
[4071] As the basic political unit, the barangay serves as the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community. They also provide forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered, and where disputes may be amicably settled.
[4072] Local Government Code of the Philippines, § 414.
[4073]Alien Social Integration Act of 1995, No. 7919.
[4074] Id. at § 14.

[4075] Republic Act No. 6713.

[4076] Bank Secrecy Act, Republic Act No. 7653.
[4077] Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act, Republic Act No. 1405.
[4078] Natividad Kwan and Cornelio B. Abuda, “Internet Banking – Key Legal Considerations,” Baker & McKenzie, Manila, November 2000.
[4079] Republic Act No. 9160, § 7(c).
[4080] Id. at §3(a).
[4081] Id. at § 3(b).

[4082] Id.
[4083] Republic Act No. 9160, supra at.§9(c).
[4084] Id.
[4085] Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, available at <>.

[4086] Electronic Commerce Act of 2000, Republic Act No. 8792. Available at
[4087] Kwan and Abuda, supra.

[4088] "Philippine Supreme Court Decision of the National ID System," supra.
[4089] Leotes Marie T. Lugo, "Erap Wants National ID System (Only Criminals Disagree with It, Says the President)," Business World, August 12, 1998, at 12.
[4090] Opinion Number 91; see "Foundation Laid for Proposed Nat'l ID," Business World, August 14, 1998, at 11.

[4091] Ma. Theresa Torres, "Congress Told: Pass Law for National ID," Manila Times, December 1, 2003., available at <>.
[4092] Id.

[4093] Manila Times Editorial, "It is a National System After All," Manila Times, July 25, 2006, available at

[4094] The Government Service Insurance System, National Computer Center, Philippine Tourism Authority, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Light Railway Transit Authority use the fingerscan as a means to ensure that employees are actually at the worksite.
[4095] "Biometrics System Usage Rises," Business World, February 17, 1998, at 14.
[4096] See for example, “Implement National ID System,” Manila Standard Today,

[4097] Act to Prohibit and Penalize Wire Tapping and Other Related Violations of the Privacy of Communication and for Other Purposes, Republic Act No. 4200, June 19, 1965.
[4098] Id. at § 5.
[4099] Id. at § 1.
[4100] Penalties include imprisonment, disqualification from public office or deportation, in case of foreigners.
[4101] Republic Act No. 4200, § 3.
[4102] Offences falling into this category include: crimes of treason, espionage, provoking war and disloyalty in case of war, piracy, mutiny in the high seas, rebellion, conspiracy and proposal to commit rebellion, inciting to rebellion, sedition, conspiracy to commit sedition, inciting to sedition, kidnapping as defined by the Revised Penal Code, and violations of Commonwealth Act No. 616, punishing espionage and other offenses against national security.

[4103] Sun-Star Network Online, "Wiretapping, sedition raps readied against Ong," June 13, 2005, available at <>.

[4104] By Maricel V. Cruz, “House ends wiretapping inquiry” Manila Times, January 26,2006, available at <>.
[4105]China, "Philippine gov’t admits security threat with wiretapping of Arroyo," June 7, 2005, available at <>.

[4106] US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006, Philippines, available at <>.
[4107] Id.

[4108] See, “Lethal Blast Hits Philippines,” BBC, April 2, 2003, <>.
[4109] Jonathan M. Hicap, "NAIA Survillance System Linked to FBI Computers." Manila Times. September 25, 2003 <>.
[4110] Wayne Madsen, "The Business of the Watchers: Privacy Protections Recede as the Purveyors of Digital Security Technologies Capitalize on September 11," Multinational Monitor, Vol 23, No. 3, March 2002, available at

[4111] Paul Alexander, "Militant Bombings Hit Philippines," Associated Press, February 14, 2005, <>.
[4112] Senate of Philippines, 14th Congress, RA 9372, An Act to Secure the State and Protect Our People from Terrorism, Republic Act No. 9372, available at
[4113] “Protection of human rights, civil liberties assured as HSA takes effect,” Gov.Ph News, July 15, 2007, available at <>.

[4114] See “Arroyo foes defy anti-terror law,” The Daily Tribune, July 16, 2007, <>.

[4115] See “Manila terror law draws criticism,” BBC, July 15, 2007, available at <>.
[4116] Arroyo foes defy anti-terror law, supra.

[4117] “Protests test new antiterrorism law,” Top Stories, Manila Times, July 16, 2007,

[4118] Legaspi v. Civil Service Commission, 150 SCRA 530, May 29, 1987, available at <>.

[4119] Constitution, supra at Art. III, § 7.

[4120] Id. at Art. II § 28.

[4121] Republic Act 6713 of 1987, available at <>. Rules Implementing the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, available at <>.

[4122] <>.
[4123] <>.

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