Seriously, a national ID?
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Clearly, the new Philippine ID (PhilID) that’s expected to be rolled out later this year, and which will be available to initially about six million Filipinos, cannot to be confused – and substituted – for a driver’s license or a passport.

What it’s supposed to do, however, according to the many information briefs released by government proponents, is to single-handedly open bureaucratic doors, like when dealing with government agencies like the SSS or GSIS, Pag-IBIG, and PhilHealth.

If you’re applying for a passport, which every Filipino should rightfully own, no need for the original copy of your birth certificate and a photocopy of another valid ID. The PhilID alone will suffice.

The same is true when transacting on anything that’s tax-related, or applying for a job, or opening a bank account. The PhilID will also supposedly replace a voter’s registration and identification card as well a senior citizen’s card.

Even if the new law, the Philippine Identification System Act, was signed and made available to the public in August last year, many questions remain in the minds of people as to just how powerful this super national ID will be.

The law, after all, mandates the government to establish a single official identification card for all Filipinos and foreign residents that as a de facto national identification number, something like a badge that will get you places when dealing with official business with the government, institutions, companies, schools, etc.

But in the Philippines, the law’s intention does not always hold water.

Mixed use and reviews

National IDs have mostly been met by controversies. Some have successfully been implemented, others weakly enforced, and quite a few recalled either in the middle of loud protests or a dying whimper.

America has had a lot of debate on a national ID, and is one country in the world that has not adopted the concept. The United Kingdom repealed its law on the ID system after four years. India’s is aimed at financial inclusiveness.

The Chinese government is undoubtedly the hands-down model for its successful stewardship of the national ID system. Every one of its 1.3 billion nationals and foreign residents have one, and the goal is to be able to keep track of holders’ movements through facial recognition technologies installed in every possible public venue.

Other countries use it for different purposes. Peru, for example, requires the national ID for citizens to get a subscriber identity module (SIM) for prepaid phone cards. Thailand uses the national ID largely to track its farming communities.


The Philippine ID system has not gone through the mill without controversy. The concept was first introduced in 1973 during the term of  former president Ferdinand Marcos, and pushed in varying degrees of interest by succeeding governments.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo managed to pass a national ID called unified multi-purpose identification (UMID), which sought to unify all government-issued identification cards. So far, UMID covers SSS, GSIS, PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG Fund.

With the exception of the current law, past attempts had been met by strong opposition, even court cases. The concern was based on a possible invasion of privacy rights and a fear of personal information leaking out and being used unscrupulously.

In fact, in 2016, the personal data of some 55 million registered voters with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was leaked online, causing some controversy, now known as Comeleaks. More than a year later, with the leak seemingly harmless, there was less noticeable protest as a national ID plan was revived under the current government.

The multiple attempts of previous administrations that started over four decades ago, to the recent “non-experience” of Filipinos with Comeleaks, and perhaps the apparently less pervasive data requirements for a PhilID, has provided the perfect conditioning for the law’s passage.


So far, getting a PhilID should be a breeze. You’ll need your birth certificate and fully filled out form that asks for data already in your birth certificate plus blood type, address, and citizenship. Your full face photo will be taken, plus a full set of fingerprints and an iris scan.

Here’s the clincher list, though. By law, all Filipinos are required to have a PhilID. It will apparently even be required for children enrolling in school by 2022 when the full rollout should be completed.

Even newborns will need to have their unique Philippine Identification System (PhiSys) ID numbers, and this is planned to happen in the latter half of 2022. Biometrics will give every PhilID card its value and power, creating by far the most powerful national ID in the country.

Depending on requirements from future implementing rules and regulations, the PhilID will collect additional data for the national database. It could become a tool for the monetary system to capture financial transactions, like in India, or your every movement, like in China.

The most important clincher is government’s resolve. Recently, budget availability was reportedly already a problem, which also partially explains the continuing changes in the national ID’s implementation schedule and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ impatience and suggestion to be the PhilID’s generating agency.

Getting the first PhilID is free, and so supposedly the required updates every 10 years. But this comes at a cost: P2 billion this year for the first six million people, and definitely more until 2022 when every Filipino is captured in the system.

The cost will escalate as the databank reach expands, when people start renewing their cards, and when newborns are tagged. For sure, batting for a 100 percent compliance will be an uphill battle.

In the end, the PhilID systems’ reach and power will rest on government’s resolve – which, we all know, changes depending on how the wind blows. Need we say more?

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