The National Computerized Identification Reference System en-tails entering the names of all Filipino citizens and foreign residents into a central computer and assigning each one a Population Reference Number based on a common biometric of the right forefinger. The ID will record information about the bearer such as date of birth, occupation, residential address, tax and voters ID numbers, blood type, allergies, as well as Government Service Insurance System and Social Security System numbers if the bearer is a member. Visitors may also be issued with ID cards to monitor the entry of undesirable aliens and terrorists.
Civil libertarians see this move as yet another manifestation of the national security ideology being adopted by the Ramos Administration. With the reintroduction of the death penalty in December 1993, the appointments of ex-military men to key government positions, the re-establishment and broadening of the scope of the National Security Council, and the continuation of "total war" in the rural areas of the countryside, this latest move is galvanising opposition forces.
Executive Secretary Ruben Torres announced he will chair an Inter-agency Coordinating Committee (IACC) that will draw up guidelines and oversee implementing the ID system. Eight national government agencies will take part: the Department of Health, the Govern-ment Service Insurance System, Social Security System, Department of Interior & Local Governments, Presidential Management Staff, the National Economic Development Authority, National Statistics Office, and the National Computer System. Money for the project will come from the budgets of these eight agencies.
The President has said that the scheme "should not be seen as an invasion of privacy" but rather as a tool that will assist citizens access to services, improve efficiency, and combat corruption, graft, fraudulent transactions and misrepresentations.
But scepticism is running hot, not surprising when you consider the abysmal track records of successive administrations.
According to the Ecumenical Forum for Church Response, President Ramos was among the original proponents for a national ID system as a security and counterinsurgency measure. He floated the idea when he was Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines under Cory Aquinos administration. At that time the proposal was shot down but later reappeared in the early years of his presidency. Then it was shelved a second time and now it is resurrected to test the faith of human rights groups still recovering from the effects of dictatorship.
The following quotes have been taken from Philippine press reports dated January 10th.
PAHRA, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates stated, "We have stretched our imagination and still we cannot see how the ID system can erase graft and corruption or address the inefficiency of many government offices."
PAHRA fears that instead of arresting corruption, the expense of setting up the computerised national identification system would provide even bigger windows of corruption for government officials.
"The citizens have no need for a new ID. The many IDs we Filipinos have are more than sufficient to transact business whether with the government or with private entities. We cannot understand why the President is so obsessed with the national ID system and its implementation now. We can only guess this has something to do with the effort of those who want to extend his term in Malacaņang," Auxilium Olayer, PAHRA secretary-general, said.
Adding their voices to the opposition were the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), League of Filipino Students, Student Christian Movement, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, and the National Federation of Labor.
The KMU said the ID system could lead to repression of labour and cause-oriented groups. KMU general secretary Manuel Sarmiento called AO 308 a "prelude to the establishment of a virtual police state."
"With such an ID system, labor organizers and human rights advocates will find it almost impossible to organize in communities where local officials connive with owners of establishments in keeping workers unorganized and therefore, cheap," he said.
Although President Ramos has assured the ID system shall not in any way invade the privacy of the people, leaders of each group contested this claim and said the scheme is a direct attack on the peoples rights.
"This is an outright lie, otherwise, why is it that the proposal for a national ID system was being pushed mainly by military and para-military agencies in the government, including the National Security Council?" Sarmiento said.
"What the Marcos dictatorship could not do, the Ramos regime has now done. We oppose the national ID system and will resolutely fight its implementation," he concluded.
In Mindanao, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) warned that its members would mount crippling transport and labor strikes to protest against the ID system and other "anti-people state policies."
Valerio Mante, Bayan national council member said, "Why approve it when it is not needed? The ID system is nothing but harassment and a form of psychological warfare against militant groups."
Human Rights advocates expressed their fear that corrupt Philippine National Police will use the ID system to extort money from helpless citizens who may have forgotten their ID cards, or particularly those with police records.
The Public Interest Law Center (PILC) composed of human rights lawyers led by Romeo Capulong, urged the people to disobey AO 308 which they see as being "unconstitutional and repressive."
Atty Capulong said Mr Ramos, with one stroke of the pen, violated at least four constitutional rights: the non-impairment clause of the right to travel and liberty of abode; the right to privacy and to be let alone; the right against self-incrimination; the right to dissent; and possibly the right against unreasonable searches without probable cause.
"We call on the people to show that they are aware of their rights and will vigilantly guard these rights by not participating in the national ID system," said a PILC statement signed by Capulong, Marie Yuvienco, Edre Olalia, Marichu Lambino and Juname de Leon.
"Like the Big Brother figure in George Orwells novel 1984, the government will use the ID system to monitor the actions and trace the whereabouts of common people as well as perceived dissenters and those branded as enemies," the PILC said.
Politicians as well have commented that AO 308 was issued under dubious circumstances.
Senator Orlando Mercado, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, said, "The order was signed on December 12, 1996. It was supposed to take effect immediately. Why was it issued only now? Are they hiding this from scrutiny?"
Mercado issued a statement saying, "The administrative order creating an inter-agency committee to draft the implementing rules and regulations must be expanded. Representatives from the private sector and Congress must be included to ensure the system would not encroach on basic human rights. Congress must thoroughly study this proposal to determine if a law is necessary to implement this."
Makati Representative Joker Aroyo said AO 308 is unconstitutional since it bypassed Congress. Arroyo plans to raise the issue before the Supreme Court. He said the order has the effect of a law but is being "deceptively passed off" as a mere executive issuance. He pointed out that there is a "whale of a difference" between the lawmaking powers of the legislature and the rulemaking authority of the President. Thus, President Ramos usurped the powers of Congress when he issued the order on the ID system.
He also said, "Four months ago, the Liga na mga Barangay was pushing for both the peoples initiative and the ID system. Now you find PIRMA promoting the same initiative and ID system. Same banana." [See article about PIRMA, Signing Up For 98 on this page.]
Senator Edgardo Angara commented, "It is ironic that despite the accolades we have been reaping as the only democratic country in Asia to rebound from an economic slump, the administration seems bent on pushing back that positive trend."
Senator Angara also believes that the fullon campaign of proadministration groups in support of a national ID system and lifting the constitutional ban on a second presidential term betrays Ramos intent to cling to power beyond 1998.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said, "Implementing the national ID plan would be like creating another National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, that obscure and ominous body whose unsavory task includes filing and compiling dossiers on perceived threats to the administration."
There were few expressions of support for the ID system. One of them came from lawyer Marcos Chua, spokesman for the new Peoples Action for Development and Pandayon Mindanao, which is part of the campaign to lift term limits on the presidency. Chua said the ID system would be effective in determining priorities for the governments social service programs and in catching tax evaders.
Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative Inc director Abdullah Nuņo called the ID system a "welcome move long overdue."
Interior and Local Government Secretary Robert Barbers admitted the ID system will help a lot in the anticrime campaign as it will enable lawmen to establish the identity of crime suspects.
While Executive Secretary Ruben Torres hastened to reassure the public that, "the information will not show you have a criminal record, it will not show you are not paying taxes properly, it will not show you are a member of a subversive organisation."
According to Torres, "It is really a campaign to get the unemployed and the selfemployed to register with either the Government Service Insurance System or the Social Security System."
by Dee Dicen Hunt