Two years lost in national ID system

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    YESTERDAY, with the COVID-19 pandemic still very much a threat, the government started to roll out the National Identification (ID) project, in pursuance of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) Act of 2018.

    The law’s objective is to establish a single official ID card for all citizens of the Philippines that integrates and interconnects all over government-issued IDs. The implementers are focusing on the first 9 million Filipinos to be registered, with a longer target of 92 million individuals by June 30, 2022 when President Duterte leaves office.

    The national ID project could have started last year if not for the tough noises aired by critics led by the leftist bloc in Congress, legitimate cybersecurity issues and — there it is again — perceived graft and corruption in bidding for suppliers. Then came the coronavirus 2019 public health problem which prompted Duterte to ask hard questions, such as, “Where is the national ID system?”

    The President believes, and rightly so, that the government’s massive Social Amelioration Program would have been implemented better if there was a national ID system in place. The President was of course furious, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III was disappointed at the executive department for not acting promptly on the law. The whole snafu caused the sudden resignation of a Cabinet member in the middle of the pandemic.

    ‘With all these advantages for the government and the ordinary people, why would the PhilSys Act of 2018 elicit such vehement opposition from its critics, led by the so-called Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives?’

    The PhilSys aims to cover a total of 664 cities and towns and 32 provinces — all low-risk areas — in its initial phase, leaving out the National Capital Region which is the flashpoint of COVID-19. Interviewers will work in less risky regions of the country, using gadgets and modern technology, dividing the task in three phases to strictly follow health warnings and protocols. Enumerators will gather names, addresses, blood types, gender, age, etc. and set up appointments with residents using their tablets. Next, the interviewees will be visited physically by the enumerators, to get their fingerprints and biometrics, including photographs. The residents will receive their brand-new PhilSys numbers and IDs early next year.

    While national security is one reason proponents such as Duterte, Sotto and Sen. Panfilo Lacson are pushing for PhilSys, the system has the added advantage of social inclusion for the poorest of the poor, the cultural minorities or tribal people, the illiterate and those without birth certificates, credit line and bank accounts. The government will find it easier to reach them to give out assistance, like when the COVID-19 epidemic struck and the President and Congress saw the need to help those in the lowest levels of the Philippine population.

    With all these advantages for the government and the ordinary people, why would the PhilSys Act of 2018 elicit such vehement opposition from its critics, led by the so-called Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives? The answer may be inferred in the latest statement from Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Camilo Cascolan who said: “If you are a good citizen, there is nothing to be afraid of. If you are following rules and regulations, for the PNP, if you are not violating rule of law or any violation of human rights, it will be good for you, it will be good for everybody.”

    General Cascolan added, “Siyempre, karamihan sa mga natatakot diyan, ‘yan yung mga gumagawa ng masama (Those who are scared of the National ID System are those who are involved in criminal activities).

    We believe it is wise to endorse this government project to our citizens for it has more to offer in advantages rather than in disadvantages. Let us support PhilSys, a good project that has already been delayed by two years.