Sponsorship Speech for the Philippine Identification System (National ID) Bill

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To reward, not to punish; to make life easy, not difficult.

Mr. President, distinguished members of this august chamber, I have the honor to report on the floor Senate Bill No. 1738, entitled “An Act Establishing the Philippine Identification System,” as embodied in Committee Report No. 277.

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At a Glance: The Philippine ID System (National ID)
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Lacson seeks easier transactions, better fight vs crime with National ID bill

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Let me thank the Chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Honorable Sen. Richard Gordon, for entrusting to this humble representation the task of presiding over the committee hearings, and sponsoring the pending legislation on the Senate floor.

A person born is given a name; a person registered is given an identity. With an identity, a person is accorded his or her rights as a citizen.

This is the universal agenda of the World Bank in harnessing digital ID systems to provide “good identity” for all.

In truth, Mr. President, identity has become a foundation in virtually all nations – even developing ones – for transforming governance, enhancing delivery of services and implementing security and crime prevention measures.

In Thailand, the national ID number helps the government achieve universal health coverage. In Pakistan, a national ID system using biometric technology ensures that women receive cash transfers directly, empowering them to decide how their money should be spent. In India, the unique ID number—known as Aadhaar—helps ensure that benefits and subsidies reach only the intended beneficiaries.

Here at home, Mr. President, proposed measures for a national ID system are still languishing in our legislative mill. As long as this situation persists, we will continue to lag behind other nations.

But it is not for the lack of trying.

For more than three (3) decades, the government has attempted to establish a national ID system, but the measure continues to face oppositions based on constitutional grounds, primarily on privacy concerns.

Two important cases come to mind:

In the first case, Ople vs. Torres (G.R. No. 127685, July 23, 1998), a divided Supreme Court (SC) ruled unconstitutional Administrative Order 308, which sought to implement the National Computerized Identification Reference System. AO 308 was struck down for two (2) reasons: one, the subject ID system was not appropriate to be covered by an administrative order amounting to usurpation of the power of Congress to legislate; and two, the order violates the right to privacy.

In the second case, Kilusang Mayo Uno vs. Director-General of NEDA (G.R. No. 167798, April l9, 2006), the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Executive Order 420, which adopts a unified multi-purpose ID system for government agencies. The Supreme Court sustained its constitutionality as the order only applies to government agencies that issue IDs to perform their statutory functions, and the issuance was within the power of the President to promulgate.

Further, the Supreme Court ruling on the validity of EO 420 relaxed its pronouncement in Ople vs Torres, when it ruled that the said case “is not authority to hold that EO 420 violates the right to privacy.” In the words of then Associate Justice Artemio V. Panganiban in his concurring opinion in Ople v. Torres, “the voting is decisive only on the need for appropriate legislation, and it is only on this ground that the petition is granted by this Court.”

Mr. President, during my first term in the Senate in 2001, one of the first bills that I authored and filed was Senate Bill No. 1832 otherwise known as the “National Reference Card System Act of 2001,” which aimed to institute a single official identification for all citizens and foreign residents of the Philippines.

Unfortunately, like many attempts in the past, my proposal failed to pass muster in the legislature.

In the public hearings we conducted, we discussed accounts of policy issues and problems in laying the groundwork for an ID system, granting merits to all the opinions of those who were for and against the measure.

At this point, let me expound on three important matters: the arguments in support of the bill, the issues against it, and the salient features of the proposed Philippine ID System.

Mr. President, identification protects every citizen’s fundamental rights. Providing proof of identity benefits all, especially the marginalized, the displaced, and the poor.

Isa na rito si Aling Richel Ticuan, isang katutubong Ati mula sa Bukwang, Kalibo, Aklan. Tatlumpu’t siyam na taong gulang na si Aling Richel, may isang anak at naglalako ng mga halamang gamot bilang kabuhayan. Tulad ng iba pang Ati sa kanilang komunidad, hindi pa kailan man nagkaroon si Aling Richel ng lehitimong ID mula sa gobyerno. Ang tanging patunay lamang ng kanyang pagkakakilanlan ay ang kanyang birth certificate na sa kasamaang-palad ay kasamang nasalanta ng bagyo.

Si Jean Benitez, 27 anyos, ay halos limang buwan na nilakad ang kanyang employment requirements tulad ng barangay ID, postal ID, Voter’s ID, Birth Certificate, at NBI clearance. Gayunman, kahit nakumpleto niya na ang mga ito, aabot pa rin daw ng anim na buwan ang pagpoproseso ng kanyang membership sa SSS dahil mayroong dalawang accounts at SSS numbers ang nakarehistro na sa kanyang pangalan.

Si Bryan Gatchalian naman ay isang magsasaka mula sa Pangasinan. Sa loob ng labing limang taon niyang pagsasaka, nakatali pa rin siya sa mga fly-by-night na pautangan. Naisin man niyang mag-apply ng pautang sa bangko para dagdagan ang kapital sa mas maliit na interes, hindi rin niya maisakatuparan dahil sa kawalan ng mga dokumento at valid IDs.

Mr. President, by not instituting a robust national identification system, we deny Aling Richel, Jean, Bryan and the millions of other Filipinos they represent access to their rights; we deny them services from the government; we deny them the opportunity to realize their full potential; we deny them their rightful share in progress.

What we allow are multiple identification systems in government which create unnecessary and costly redundancies, resulting in the exclusion of those who do not have the means and capacity to access the IDs. Likewise, we make it inconvenient for individuals to transact with government agencies and private sector entities.

At present, what we have is the Unified Multi-Purpose ID or UMID, which is issued to the 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).

However, while it provides a good chance at harmonizing our government ID systems, UMID only covers less than 20% of the population since the start of its enrollment process in 2010.

Several government-issued ID numbers are also in use, resulting in duplication of efforts, wastage of resources, and uncoordinated identity approaches. In fact, a perusal of the list of valid IDs in the Philippines enumerates 33 – I repeat, 33 – different forms of identification issued by various government agencies.

Mr. President, sabi ngang kagalang-galang na Minority Leader, isa sa may-akda ng panukalang ito, Senator Franklin Drilon, “nagsisilbi lamang pampakapal ng wallet at bulsa ng mga Pilipino ang mga IDs mula sa gobyerno.”

The irony remains that while we refuse to have a national ID, we allow numerous sectoral cards for specific purposes.

It is the intent of this proposed bill to harmonize, integrate, and interconnect these countless and redundant government IDs by establishing a single national identification system to be known as the Philippine Identification System or PhilSys.

The PhilSys will eliminate the need to present other forms of identification in a wide variety of public and private transactions, services, and derivative identity credentials.

Mr. President, you may have heard the terms “good law” and “bad law” bandied about the Philippine ID System. The latter is founded on a host of issues and concerns on human rights and the right to privacy relative to the implementation of an ID system.

History tells us that in all of our attempts to institute a national ID, privacy issues have been one of the main reasons for abandoning ID proposals altogether.

In fact, in his ponencia in Ople vs Torres (July 23, 1998), then Justice Reynato Puno contended that the national ID system “will put our people’s right to privacy in clear and present danger” and the “vast reservoir of personal information [collected in the ID] constitutes a covert invitation to misuse, a temptation that may be just too great for some of our authorities to resist.”

Mr. President, unlike policies in the past which were bereft of security safeguards, and in consideration of the numerous pronouncements made by the Supreme Court in protecting the right to privacy, this Committee makes certain that the proposed bill will plug the loopholes and provide better safeguards.

Now, the Philippine ID System.

Mr. President, the proposed bill will establish a foundational ID System, to be known as the Philippine Identification System or PhilSys with three (3) key components: the PhilSys Number or PSN, the PhilID, and the PhilSys Registry.

Unlike other ID systems linked to specific services, we are instituting a foundational ID, which shall serve as a legal proof of identity for multiple purposes.

Mr. President, with a foundational ID, we are not limiting the use of the system to specific services but instead, opening up possibilities for more functions without the need for limitless data.

The bill will allow every Filipino and resident alien of the country to be identified with the use of a PhilSys Number or PSN, a randomly generated, unique and permanent identification number which shall be the standard number assigned to each individual to be incorporated in all identification systems of government agencies.

Likewise, there shall be a PhilID, a non-transferable card containing on its face the PSN, full name, facial image, date of birth, address and some fingerprints of the individual in whose favor it was issued.

Generally speaking, Mr. President, the PhilSys Number and the authentication process are the most fundamental components of our system.

To some extent, this is comparative to the social security number of the United States of America which serves as its de facto national identification number; and the Aadhaar, the official national ID of India that can be used for authentication purposes even in the absence of physical IDs.

In order to ease the burden of our people, our bill enumerates various government agencies as registration centers while at the same time, requires that special arrangements be made for minors, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and persons in institutional households. Filipino citizens residing abroad shall register in Philippine embassies or foreign service posts.

Under the proposed measure, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is mandated to act as the PhilSys Registry, a repository and custodian of all data including the PSN, registered records, and information of all persons registered in the PhilSys. The bill also creates a PhilSys Policy and Coordination Council (PSPCC), with the mandate to formulate policies and guidelines to ensure effective coordination and implementation of the PhilSys.

An important feature of this proposed legislation is the concept of authentication or the process of verifying, whether online or offline, the identity of an individual against the registry information in the PhilSys or PhilID.

We understand that a robust ID system is built on the trust of our people. Hence, in crafting the Philippine ID system, we put primacy in protecting privacy and user rights of individuals by establishing strong legal frameworks and institutional accountability.

At this point, we reiterate the doctrine enunciated in KMU vs Director General NEDA, and I quote, “the right to privacy does not bar the adoption of reasonable ID systems by government entities.”

To this end, Mr. President, we made sure that allowable access to information is narrowly focused and that compelling interests justify such intrusion, particularly, on each of the four (4) circumstances:

First, when the registered person has given his or her consent, specific to the purpose prior to the processing;

Second, when the compelling interest of public health or safety so requires, relevant information may be disclosed provided the risk of significant harm to the public is established and the owner of the information is notified within 72 hours of the fact of such disclosure;

Third, upon order of any competent court; and

Finally, when a registered person requests from the PSA access to his or her registered information and record history, subject to the guidelines and regulations to be issued by the PSA.

Mr. President, while it is practical to collect data beyond basic information, the Committee maintains that indiscriminate data collection may pose risks to individual privacy. Hence, data collected by the Philippine Registry shall be limited to demographic information such as: a) Name; b) Sex; c) Date of Birth; d) Place of Birth; and e) Address. Other information such as Mobile Number and E-mail address of the cardholder are optional. Biometrics information to be collected also include facial image, full set of fingerprints, iris scan and if necessary, other identifiable features of an individual as may be determined.

Mr. President, when these data are collected and verified, they can be used to identify a person by answering the simple question: “Who are you?” Along with the credentials issued by the government such as, but not limited to the PSN, PhilID, or mobile ID, these data can then be used as authentication factors to answer the question: “Are you who you claim to be?”

Mr. President, our ID System allows for technologies which are responsive and adaptive to rapidly changing times. In the words of Senator Win Gatchalian, our ID System will be “future-proof.” The bill also guarantees security safeguards for data privacy and security, and for prevention against the proliferation of fraudulent or falsified identification cards.

Finally, Mr. President, the Philippine Identification System is protected by strong penal provisions criminalizing refusal to accept the PhilID or PSN; the use of false name or information in the application; unlawful manner or use of the PhilID or PSN to commit a fraudulent act or for unlawful purpose; access data or information by unauthorized persons; and, malicious disclosure of data or information either for profit or by negligence.

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Mr. President, it is worth mentioning that fundamental to this legislation is the availability of appropriations. For the first time, funding for the National ID system amounting to P2 billion is made available under the budget of the Philippine Statistics Authority as provided in the GAA for the fiscal year 2018.

In deliberating this proposed measure, I urge everyone to keep in mind that the lack of identification creates formidable barriers for the downtrodden and the poor, and creates even larger barriers between the government and the people.

The National Security Adviser was recently quoted in a national article, and in his words, he said, “we will implement the program. Even without the law, we will go ahead with the necessary steps.”

Mr. President, it is high time that we take on our vision, leadership, and political will to make this transformational agenda a reality.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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