Saturday, April 22, 2006

Palace orders implementation of ID system

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday ordered the immediate implementation of the national identification card system a day after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the project.

MalacaƱang executives want a national ID to be a mandatory requirement in all government transactions and will encourage the private sector to require the same.

"President Arroyo has given the go-signal to the Cabinet to get the ID system in one form or another and this is the way we can keep up with the rest of the world," said Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.

Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor said the ID system would be up and running in a few months. He said the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), which would oversee the project, had been given less than 30 days to come up with its mechanics.

While Defensor said the databases of both the Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service and Insurance System (GSIS) would simply be merged, NEDA chief Romulo Neri said the national ID system would include data from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). Defensor explained that the goal was to synchronize all state-issued IDs with all citizens expected to have one number for quick reference and profiling.

He said that government agencies would make it mandatory for all individuals dealing with them to use the national ID to facilitate their transactions. "We would also encourage the private sector to do the same," said Defensor.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the national ID system under Executive Order No. 420 and rejected claims that it violated an individual's right to privacy.

Andres Bautista, dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law, said the court decision was a good one because it ruled the ID system was not compulsory and that any information requested was already available in the public domain.

Phantom fears

Bunye hailed the Supreme Court decision "not only because of its contribution to national security but its effect in facilitating the delivery of vital government programs and services to the Filipino people."

"Issues adverting to infringement of human rights are phantom fears," said Bunye. "The system has enough safeguards to protect the citizen from imagined violations of the right to privacy."

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno told the Inquirer that there was no need to gather data at the barangay (village) level. He said that any data needed was already in the hands of the government, such as the GSIS, Comelec and the Land Transportation Office.

"Privacy and privileged personal information will not lose their legal protection under existing laws as a consequence of the Supreme Court decision," Puno said.

When the national ID system was first proposed as an instrument against terrorism, information gathered from the barangays was planned to form its database.

Now, Puno said, the Department of Interior and Local Government would only be a support organization for the ID project.

"What is imminent is the consolidation of the ID cards of the different agencies. I don't think we will do data-gathering on anyone," Puno said. He said that the National Census and Statistical Office could handle the consolidation.

'For people in government'

In Lapulapu City, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the high court's decision did not cover private citizens as the government had intended.

"The national ID sustained by the Supreme Court is really for the moment to facilitate administrative aspects for people in the government, especially in transacting business with the government," said Ermita, who was attending the three-day international conference on counterterrorism.

He said it may be required whenever they transact business with the government, such as applying for various licenses and registering to engage in business.

He emphasized the importance of a national ID system especially in the fight against criminality, insurgency and terrorism. But he denied claims by human rights advocates the project would be used to harass individuals and violate their privacy.

Gradual rise of police state

The leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said it would soon be necessary for all citizens to get an ID.

"We are now seeing the gradual rise of a police state and the evolution of the real Orwellian Big Brother. Freedom-loving citizens must act now to defend their rights, including the right to privacy," Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said. (INQ7)

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