Separating the good from bad through a national I.D. system

MUCH has been said by government officials on the social and development benefits to be reaped with the recent enactment of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) law.

But beyond the economics of the national ID system, it is the security sector, especially the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), that stands to gain the most from the law’s implementation.

While some security officials, including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde, choose to look at the “other side” of the system, other officials, however, admitted that it may just be the much-needed spice in the overall peace and security campaigns.

Lorenzana’s and Albayalde’s take on the system, away from their standpoint as security officials, may fly as they may want to temper any backlash on the law’s implementation, given criticisms that it may lead to the wanton violation of people’s rights by the government.

Underhanded maneuver

For one, rights group Karapatan expressed fears that the law would constrict privacy rights and freedom of movement, and would expose Filipinos to surveillance while impinging on their rights to unhampered and nondiscriminatory provision of social services.

“The national ID system will be an underhanded maneuver to screen and monitor people. This law will be very much prone to abuse, considering that our bureaucracy is already littered with militarists and ex-generals who have proven their contempt for people’s rights,” it said.

With the narrative coming from groups such as Karapatan, the military through its spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo echoed the statement of President Duterte in signing the law—that only those with criminal intents abhor the national ID system, which they insist had long been needed by Filipinos.

“The law is a bane to criminals, terrorists and unscrupulous persons and groups, while it is a boon to law-abiding citizens and well-meaning individuals,” Arevalo said.

Shot in the arm

The military described the law as a much-needed shot in its arm as it carries on with its campaign against terrorism, insurgency and against groups that it has categorized as threats to national security.

“It will promote a peaceful and secure environment where terrorists, criminals and other unscrupulous individuals will have a difficulty coping to pursue their evil designs and nefarious activities,” Arevalo said.

In the area of counterterrorism and anti-insurgency, military public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said that the PhilSys will expose and unmask terrorists and rebels, and will restrict their movements.

“It isolates them and gives them nowhere to hide,” he said.

Arevalo noted that in the case of the New People’s Army, rebels carry aliases or are basically identified through their assumed names, thus shielding them from prosecution unless they are properly identified.

“They can no longer assume multiple and/or false identities to commit crimes that victimize our people. With the new identification system, we will be able to check and validate their criminal identities,” he said.

“The law will further isolate criminals from law-abiding citizens. The former will remain in hiding and cannot avail themselves of the mandated identification card lest they be exposed to arrest and prosecution. They will lose their freedom of movement; their ability to transact business will be divested with no ID cards to present when demanded,” he added.

Investigative, prosecution tool

If the military sees the national ID system as a good ingredient in its internal security campaign, the PNP also views it as a great tool in its peace and order operations, although again, Albayalde refused to dwell on its potent effect in the police’s anticrime efforts.

The PNP chief, other than elaborating on the service benefits and privileges offered by the PhilSys, merely said that the national ID system would allow them to share their crime information and clearance systems with other government agencies through a national database that would be put up under the law.

A ranking police official said that for those who have criminal records or in the case of people who are wanted by the law, the ID system could work as a “locator” for law enforcement officers.

“Once they use their IDs, then it pinpoints where they are and who they are,” he said.

The official said that since the law mandates or honors only a single identification system, then criminals have no option but to expose themselves, otherwise they should opt out of being listed in the national ID system.

“But then again, the law will leave you no choice, since if you will not avail yourself of the system, then it means you are hiding something or your record is questionable,” he said.

“As President Duterte has said, only those who have criminal records or those who are hiding something are afraid of the law,” he added.

At the extreme, the national ID should serve as a walking monitor for those who have transgressed the law since it is used in every transaction that requires proof of identity.

Getting it right this time

President Duterte signed into law on August 6 the measure seeking to establish the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys), and, in a speech, allayed fears about the violation of privacy rights and other individual freedoms.

He and Palace officials insisted that, unlike its doomed predecessors—there were several attempts across previous administrations to have one such system—this measure will meet the test of constitutionality even if critics or lawmakers make good on a vow to bring it to court.

Once the Philippine Identification System Act is signed into law, all citizens and resident aliens of the country will soon be provided with a valid proof of identify as a means of simplifying public and private transactions.

One year after the effectivity of the Act, every citizen or resident alien shall register personally in the registration centers.

The law also aims to eliminate the need to present other forms of identification when transacting with government and the private sector, subject to appropriate authentication measures based on a biometric identification system.

The Philippine ID shall contain the following information: the PhilSys number, full name, sex, blood type, marital status (optional), place of birth, photograph, date of birth and address.

The PhilSys number is a randomly generated, unique and permanent identification number that will be assigned to every citizen or resident alien upon birth or registration by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), which is also the primary implementing agency to carry out the provisions of the measure.

For data privacy and security, the ID shall contain a QR code which contains some fingerprint information and other security measures, such as iris scan.

Any information obtained as a result of unlawful disclosure under the Act shall be inadmissible in any judicial, quasijudicial or administrative proceedings.

The Department of Budget and Management also said in March that it has allocated a P2-billion budget to the PSA for the implementation of the Philippine ID system.

The Philippines has a Unified-Multi-Purpose ID (UMID) system in place, but National Statistician and Civil Registrar General of PSA Lisa Bersales earlier said that the proposed Philippine ID is different from UMID.

According to Bersales, UMID is a “functional ID” while the proposed Philippine ID is a “foundational ID.”

She said functional IDs are ID cards, numbers, or other systems created for specific government services, such as driver’s licenses and voter cards. On the other hand, foundational IDs are not linked to special services but serve as a legal proof of identity for multiple purposes, for example, unique ID cards.


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Rene Acosta

Rene P. Acosta covers defense, law enforcement and national security for the paper. He had written for a number of publications, including abroad before he joined BusinessMirror. His works had appeared in the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Asia Pacific Defense Forum, both in the US. He took up regional security with the International Visitor Leadership Program, US. He is currently the chairman of the board of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines which he had headed in 2009.