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SoNA reflections

The NPC dedicated its earliest years in building a solid ground for data privacy through information campaigns, capacity-building, and empowering privacy professionals.

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A few days ago, President Roa Rodrigo Duterte gave his last State of the Nation Address (SoNA), which recounted the current administration’s victories, priorities and plans going forward.

Perhaps one of the most resounding statements made by the President in his SoNA is his drive to shape our government as a truly customer-centric and service-oriented institution: mapagmalasakit, makatao, maka-Pilipino.
The value of sincere government service underpins higher national objectives.

When the President assumed office five years ago, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) was tasked to build a culture of privacy that fosters trust in those trying to do it right, all while ensuring accountability against those blatantly violating it.

With service at heart, the NPC dedicated its earliest years in building a solid ground for data privacy through information campaigns, capacity-building, and empowering privacy professionals.

The small victories and traction we gained locally gave rise to opportunities for international collaborations. We endeavored to introduce the Filipino as a responsible steward of data to enable businesses, attract investments, and promote cross-border data flows. The Philippines was given numerous opportunities to lead on the world stage, and we delivered.

In his 2020 SoNA, the President boldly declared that the Philippines is committed to protect the digital lives of the Filipino people. And this has never been more emphasized in the face of Covid-19.

There were moments where privacy was threatened for public health. The NPC remained steadfast in its position that public health and privacy are on the same side. Neither one of them should be sacrificed for government to gain the trust of its citizens in the battle against Covid.

In the early days of the pandemic response, during an IATF-EID (Inter-Agency Task Force) meeting, when a senior official suggested the public disclosure of the actual names of Covid-19 positive patients to aid in contact tracing, the President himself intervened and shot down the idea, declaring the suggestion ran counter to the principles of the right to privacy, thus, preventing the disastrous consequences of a panic measure.

Our National ID or PhilSys ID experience is another example. At the onset, deep privacy and cybersecurity concerns hover its adoption. And to address this, the NPC was called to provide leadership and guidance and was given a seat at the design table to participate in the PhilSys development to ensure privacy by design. Privacy is an enabler of trust, and the overwhelming PhilSys ID registration during its launch is a testament to this.

With the President’s call to “set up the transition of government processes to the digital age,” we are assured that the directive points to a clear path for development and progress where data protection and privacy are certain and should not be ignored by present and future leaders.

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