The acceleration of digital transformation is one of the significant beneficial developments triggered by the pandemic. Day-to-day transactions, especially online buying and selling of food, medicines and other essential goods and services are now facilitated by digital technology. Most importantly, the components of effective response to COVID-19 — namely, prevention, detection, isolation and tracing — are mediated and enabled by digital tools.
This is the context in which the Philippine Identification System (Philsys) — or simply put, the Phil ID — project of the government must be appreciated. Recall that when enhanced community quarantine was first imposed in March last year, the government required mass media employees to obtain special identification cards. Likewise, even manual workers were required to present proof of identity at police checkpoints.
It has been almost five decades after the concept was first proposed during the Marcos regime. The biggest advance was made in 2005 when then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Executive Order No. 420 established a Unified Multi-Purpose Identification (UMID) system covering more than 20 million SSS, GSIS, PhilHealth, and Pag-IBIG members, and this was upheld by the Supreme Court.
President Duterte finally signed into law the Philippine Identification System Act (Republic Act 11055) on August 6, 2018. That its implementation had not yet begun in earnest surfaced in the aftermath of then Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia’s resignation in April 2020. As lead agency, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) under Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua fast-tracked the project.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has been tapped to produce the ID cards through its security printing plant. Last year, it produced three million cards. Production could be ramped up to 70 million, based on current capacity.
According to BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno, the Phil ID is biometric-based with sufficient layers of security to prevent any illegal use of information. It would enable banks to apply know-your-customer (KYC) rules to ensure fool-proof identity verification in opening and servicing transaction accounts. As the BSP leads the inter-agency coordinating body on its implementation, Diokno is also pushing for the use of the Phil ID in enhancing financial inclusion. This was boosted recently with the issuance by President Duterte of Executive Order 127, amending EO 467, “liberalizing access to satellite services, which in turn will open opportunities for telecommunication companies to provide better internet services and access nationwide.”
Former Economic Planning Secretary Cielito Habito observed last year that while the Philippines trails more than 100 countries that had gone ahead with national IDs, it could still make catch up in terms of emulating other countries’ technology enabled best practices in containing the pandemic.
Echoing previous concerns, he stated: “Still, questions remain on whether it could put people’s privacy at risk, or be misused by government. But one could well reason that anything, even good things, when placed in the wrong hands, could be misused for the wrong ends. Can we trust government to responsibly use the national ID only to promote the greater good? Ultimately, it’s up to us to choose leaders who will.”