Surveillance state

Rodrigo Duterte
Standard

Upon the declaration of martial law in 1972 and in the 14 years that followed, the Marcos terror regime arrested, abducted, and detained over a hundred thousand political activists; artists, writers and critical journalists; teachers, professors, lawyers and other professionals; student, labor and peasant leaders; Muslims and indigenous people; and members of the opposition and other regime critics. Accused of rebellion, subversion and/or sedition, but only in rare instances charged in the regime’s military kangaroo courts, many of these men and women were tortured, summarily executed, or forcibly disappeared.

The basis for their arrest, abduction, detention, and, in many cases, their extrajudicial killing, were the dossiers that the civilian, police and military intelligence agencies kept on hundreds of thousands of men and women whose phones they tapped, whose movements they monitored and whose conversations with friends, colleagues and associates they listened in on with the use of then available devices, or which their spies in the media, academia, and various labor, student and farmer organizations reported.

The files these agencies kept included not only records on what these men, women and even children did or said where and during what occasions, who their friends and relatives were, their addresses and places of work, what they wrote if they were writers, and what they said in a television or radio broadcast if they were broadcasters, but also photographs, tape recordings and films, and other data.

In not a few instances, the only information amassed — much of it raw and unverified — proved little or nothing of the crimes these individuals were later accused of by their military captors. But they were nevertheless used not only to condemn them to prolonged detention or even death, but also in the effort to extract further information through torture.

The official justification for this criminal enterprise of violating due process, the presumption of innocence, and the right to a fair trial was, in Ferdinand Marcos’ words, “to save the Republic and reform society.” But by the time he was through and on his way to Hawaii in 1986, both the Republic and Philippine society were in ruins with the decimation of at least two generations of the men and women who were among the most committed to the changes Philippine society has long needed to rescue it from the poverty and injustice that has been its people’s lot for centuries.

At the height of the EDSA 1 civilian-military mutiny, in apparent awareness of the need to preserve the regime’s dossiers on perceived “enemies of the state” for whatever use he and his cohorts in the military would have for them in the emerging Corazon Aquino regime, former Marcos Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile made it a point to instruct his minions to “secure the NISA (National Intelligence and Security Authority) files” in Malacanang as a group of protesters was storming the palace.

The dossiers the present day NICA (National Intelligence Coordinating Agency — the NISA as renamed and reorganized in 1987) no doubt still maintains are among the means through which post-Marcos regimes have kept watch on various groups and individuals regarded as potential or actual threats to national security.

The surveillance state is not just a threat; it has been a reality for decades. Since the Fidel Ramos regime, to make NICA’s job and that of its fellow agencies easier, a national ID system has been proposed either by past Philippine presidents or by members of Congress. But only during the present regime has the proposal advanced to the present stage, in which a national ID system bill only needs the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte to become law.

In defending the bill, its prime mover, former Philippine National Police Director General, now Senator Panfilo Lacson, has downplayed the possible use of a national ID system against every citizen’s right to privacy on the argument that in getting a driver’s license for example, Filipinos are already compelled to reveal such details about themselves as date of birth, address, etc. — which, however, is no argument for the further erosion of privacy rights. Lacson also failed to mention that it was exactly because of the possibility that that right may be violated that the Supreme Court struck down in 1998 then President Ramos’ Administrative Order 308 establishing a “National Computerized Identification Reference System.”

In addition to further eroding the right to privacy, however, is its most probable use to label and condemn individuals as criminals or terrorists who may either be unaware of the need to obtain such an ID card or who fail to procure one for whatever reason. Its adherents have in fact cited as one of its supposed advantages its use as a means of identifying “terrorists” and “preventing crime.”

The claim that it can do either presumes that an individual who intends to commit a criminal and/ or terrorist act can’t or won’t get a national ID card. It’s an assumption that’s being challenged daily not only by the fact that such individuals do get papers and whatever else they need to get around. There is also the distinct possibility that once the system is in place, it will encourage criminal syndicates to organize their own means of marketing fake IDs. Diplomas, passports and other papers can, after all, be faked and are still being faked with impunity in this country.

The argument that possession of a national ID card will enable the holder to easily access government services may be sound. But it forgets that once millions more demand health, education, welfare and other social services, unless these are enhanced and government capacity to provide them improved, what will ensue will be a critical failure to meet the surge in the demand for them.

But even more distressing is the use of the system to harass, intimidate and suppress dissenters and protesters, which is highly likely in the context of the unprecedented empowerment of the police and military under the current regime.

Will a person who can’t produce an ID card, who failed to procure one, who has the same name as an alleged criminal and terrorist, or who has lost his card, also lose his freedom and rights as well when stopped at a police or military checkpoint in, say, a remote barangay in the Visayas or in Mindanao? And to what extent, given the possibility that the database of the Philippine Statistics Authority will be hacked by any one of the legions of computer geniuses all over the globe, can information on individuals who are being targeted for whatever reason by government or private entities be used against them?

There is no arguing against the need of governments for information necessary to protect their constituents and to safeguard national security. But the legitimacy of those needs has too often been used by surveillance and police states against the very people they’re sworn to protect, as the entire planet witnessed during the Marcos dictatorship and as it is still seeing today in the country of our sorrows. Once in place the national ID system will complete the Duterte police state.

Note the utter fallacy of the claim by bureaucrats who’re in favor of the system that no one has anything to fear if he or she isn’t doing anything wrong or illegal. It ignores the all too real outrage that the prisons of this country are crammed to the rafters with the innocent, and its cemeteries full of the bones of those who did nothing wrong, while the real terrorists and assassins who put them there walk the corridors of power.

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