It is only a matter of time before President Duterte signs into law the bill that will put citizens and aliens under a National Identification System, to be known as Philippine Identification System or PhilSys.
This upgrades the Unified Multi-purpose ID or UMID. This card, although optional, are issued to members of the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund). But as it is optional, not all members have availed of UMID mainly because the inconvenience of getting one is not worth the benefits. As such, UMID’s coverage is quite small, at only about 20% of the population.
Transacting with the government is often characterized as a difficult challenge. Verifying one’s identity alone through repetitive collection of data by different government agencies is not only taxing but a waste of resources.
As PhilSys is aimed at promoting seamless delivery of service and enhancing administrative governance, the single identification system might just be the solution to improve efficiency and at the same time reduce the cost of public services.
With PhilSys, any government agency would be able to almost immediately identify a citizen or resident alien. PhilSys would somehow serve as the gateway to a number of public services.
That being said, the question on the quantum of public services that government can provide citizens and resident aliens deserves a separate discussion. After all, proof of identity is not necessary proof of eligibility.
With a number of contentious and pressing governance issues, is a national ID system absolutely necessary? Do the benefits it seeks to provide outweigh the risks?
To start with, any data collection initiative poses privacy concerns, so far the main argument against the adoption of a national ID. Will the safeguards enshrined in the bill and existing law suffice to protect citizens from unlawful disclosure of information?
While the information to be collected are said to be merely demographic data, such as full name, sex, date and place of birth, and address, privacy concerns cannot be downplayed. The breach incident dubbed “Comeleaks” saw a lot of data compromised by a group of hackers. The incident indeed served as a wakeup call for the government to undertake steps to beef up its cybersecurity efforts via a cyber resilient program.
At the age of digitization, when everyday transactions pass through digital channels, a leak or any unauthorized disclosure of any information — even seemingly minor ones — could very well lead to security and financial consequences.
For PhilSys to succeed, the government must first and foremost establish and enhance the trust and security among its citizens.
As initial funding, some P2 billion was allotted for the Philippine Statistics Authority to undertake activities in support of PhilSys rollout. These include the creation of a Project Management Office, the creation of work streams for the identification of technical specifications for National ID System Design, the publication of the Implementing Rules and Regulations; and the registration of one million household heads, among others.
If successfully implemented, the PhilSys will directly benefit the most productive sectors of the population and open the country to the best tech solutions in the world. This can potentially dramatically ease the way we transact business, eventually laying the foundation of the country’s digital transformation.
Katrina Clemente-Lua is the Executive Director and Policy Lead for ICT, Stratbase ADR Institute