The country’s biggest business groups are urging the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to temporarily suspend the Data Privacy Act (DPA), saying that by doing so the government can save a lot of money allocated for contact tracing expenses.
In a joint letter addressed to the IATF through Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles who co-chairs the inter-agency body, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Philippine Silk Road International Chamber of Commerce (PSRICC), Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), and Philippine Exporters Confederation (PhilExport) submitted a four-point proposal, among which is the suspension of the DPA.
Included in its proposal to “build/repurpose decent and comfortable quarantine facilities in strategic local government units in the National Capital Region” is to “reverse the process” by encouraging infected people to “come out in the open.”
“At the same time, we emphasize that COVID is not a disease that we should be ashamed of,” the business groups said.
“Supplementing this call for voluntary disclosure is the temporary suspension of the Data Privacy Act, including the patient confidentiality clauses, as part of government prerogatives in this crisis,” the joint letter continues.
The business sector noted that the public should treat voluntary disclosures as “heroes and life savers.”
“Government officials, including legislators and Cabinet members, had been good models in this advocacy,” the business groups said.
“After all, in the interest of saving lives, the government has already taken away many constitutional rights to implement the strict quarantine protocols,” the letter added.
According to the business groups, if the DPA is suspended in the context of the health emergency, “we may not have to use the full P5-billion budget allocated for contact tracers.”
“Instead, we can start with even P1 billion to build or repurpose existing schools or other buildings in strategic barangays in the NCR. As the positive cases surface, we need decent and comfortable quarantine facilities to house them, since we are already banning home quarantines. Otherwise, where will they and the other positives go while we continue to test and trace?”
In a separate statement, however, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) said that the suggestion to suspend the DPA is “counterproductive” and “anti-poor.”
“Science and medical ethics dictate that publicly naming COVID-infected individuals does not help in decreasing the transmission of infection and is counterproductive,” the NPC said.
“The call to suspend the DPA in the name of public disclosure is anti-poor and devoid of science and ethics. Let us move forward the fight against COVID with more evidence-based proposals and solutions,” it said.
Moreover, the NPC said that DPA's suspension is a “gross disregard for the expert opinions of epidemiologists and scientists around the world and the reality happening on the ground, especially in countries that have kept COVID at bay.”
It noted that Singapore and Thailand, which have been cited for their success in contact tracing in battling COVID-19, have not considered suspending a fundamental human right as a measure to fight the pandemic.
“There has been no evidence that publicly naming COVID-infected individuals has public health benefits. But we have evidence that outing those with the disease leads to public discrimination, shaming, and social vigilantism,” the NPC said.
“Such prejudicial treatment has prevented COVID positive individuals and their close contacts from coming out to seek testing and treatment, making it more difficult for authorities to more accurately capture how far COVID has spread,” it said.
Further, the NPC argued that the Philippines has enough provisions in our laws to allow the government to effectively conduct contact tracing, treat patients, and face this threat while securing the personal data and dignity of our citizens.
Apart from suspending the DPA, business groups also reiterated their call to facilitate the mobility of people by allowing more public vehicles.
“The biggest single criticism against the government and IATF by the public is the inability to provide sufficient transportation. We are anticipating the declaration of the MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) where at least 90% of the workforce should already be back to work. And yet, there are still no clear plans on how to address this shortage,” the business sector said.
“The simplest solution we can think of is to bring back all the public and private vehicles, including Transportation Network Vehicle Service (TNVS), prior to COVID (except those that are colorum, not road-worthy and non-compliant to the safety and health protocols),” the business groups said. —LBG, GMA News