MANILA: The Philippines has enacted into law a national identification (ID) system that officials say will give more than 100 million Filipinos access to a wide range of government services and privileges.
But more than its economic benefits, the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) Act is seen to give a big boost to the government’s overall peace and security campaign.
The establishment of a national ID system has always been opposed by human rights groups that say it is an underhanded maneuver to screen and monitor people.
“Time and again, we have reiterated that this law… is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights group Karapatan, said in a statement.
It will lead to wholesale rights violations, primarily of people’s rights to freedom of movement and privacy, their right against surveillance, and the right to unhampered and non-discriminatory provision of social services, she added.
“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,” she said.
“With billions already funneled to intelligence funds, this law will further fast-track government monitoring and even harassment of its citizens.”
But President Rodrigo Duterte allayed public fears regarding privacy and security, saying the information included in the Phil-ID will be similar to that already in the possession of government agencies such as the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), PhilHealth and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The law will establish a single national ID system that will promote good governance, enhance governmental transactions, and create a more conducive environment for trade and commerce to thrive, he added.
The Phil-ID, which will be issued to all citizens and residents in the country, will dispense with the need to present multiple IDs for different government transactions, Duterte said.
This will enhance administrative governance, reduce corruption, curtail bureaucratic red tape, promote the ease of doing business, avert fraudulent transactions, strengthen financial inclusion and create a more secure environment for the people, he added.
“There is therefore no basis at all for the apprehensions about the Phil-ID, unless of course that fear is based on anything that borders on illegal,” Duterte said.
The Phil-ID will even aid in the government’s drive against poverty, corruption, criminal issues, terrorism and violent extremism, he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said armed conflicts and insurgencies are often rooted in poor governance and delivery of basic services.
As he welcomed the benefits of the Phil-ID on law enforcement operations, he echoed Duterte in assuring the public that individual privacy will be respected.
Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), expressed optimism that the law will promote a peaceful and secure environment where terrorists, criminals and other unscrupulous individuals will face difficulties.
“They can no longer assume multiple and/or false identities to commit crimes that victimize our people,” he said in a statement.
“With the new identification system, we will be able to check and validate their (criminals’) identities.”
The law will further isolate criminals from law-abiding citizens, as the former will remain in hiding lest they be exposed to arrest and prosecution, Arevalo said.
“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.
“We also believe that the ID system shall facilitate government transactions and programs like census, promote transparency, and likewise spare our people from the burden of bringing with them several identification cards to establish their identities.”
Retired Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar said the passage of the law was long overdue. “It should have started a long time ago. By this time we could have issued national IDs, particularly to those in the countryside,” he added.
Besides promoting national security because there will now be a database of all Filipinos, the law will also help prevent identity theft, Aguilar said.