The officials of the Arroyo government should stop trying to justify the unjustifiable—in this case the national ID card system its National Security Council endorsed on October 14, because the more they talk about it the sillier—and the more dangerous for everyone—it gets.

The silence should start with National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, whose most recent statements border on the incredible for their convoluted reasoning and outright lack of sense.

A “nonmandatory” identification system which would be necessary only when the holder deals with the government would defeat its own stated purpose—preventing and stopping crimes and terrorism—from the very start. And yet that’s exactly what the government is about to put in place through an Arroyo executive order.

The system, which would temporarily allow the use of IDs issued by the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System, will eventually require all Filipinos to carry a government-issued ID card, says Golez.

Filipinos would be forced to get the “nonmandatory” card because they would be denied government service without it, said Golez. Everyone has to deal with government; therefore everyone will have to get a card.

Which makes the system mandatory—and which makes Golez’s statements a form of doublespeak Big Brother would have been proud of.

Unfortunately, however, Golez and company may be wrong about their assumption that all 80 million Filipinos—or at least those among them who are 15 years old and above—have to deal with government, and that, because they have to, would be that much easier to keep track of, therefore enabling the government to prevent crimes and terrorist acts before they happen.

Golez and company may not know it, but millions of Filipinos have actually not had to deal with government all their lives. They don’t pay taxes. They don’t drive vehicles—or if they do, have not bothered to get a license. They don’t have business permits for their carinderia, which after all is part of the underground economy. They don’t have social security. They’re not government employees. They’re not legally married to the person they’re living with. Their birth was never registered with the civil registrar.

Golez, however, apparently believes that the government is everywhere, and the need for its “services” universal. It isn’t.

But let us assume for the sake of argument that everyone indeed needs those “services.” Let us assume that a Muslim youth, whose lack of education and economic opportunity makes him a more than likely candidate for the Abu Sayyaf, has to deal with government, and for this purpose has obtained a government-issued ID card. (It requires a considerable stretch of the imagination to believe that a present member of the Abu Sayyaf will apply for a driver’s license.)

Our imaginary young man presents the card at the appropriate government agency—say the local branch of the Land Transportation Office—so he can get a license to drive a passenger jeepney.

The local LTO enters all available details about him into its database—it will need one if it intends to access information about all those who have had any dealings with it.

The information could include his address, his occupation and physical description, etc.—details which are presumably already in a national database, into which the information was inputted when the ID card was issued. (Let us assume that the information is accurate, starting with his name, and that it isn’t based on spurious documents like a fake birth certificate.)

Somewhere along the line he is eventually suspected of involvement in an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping, and the information about him becomes immediately available through both the national database as well as local LTO records.

The only way this information can be of use in his apprehension is for him to be stopped at a checkpoint, and for him to be found out when he presents his ID—or, if he refuses, to be hauled off for “tactical interrogation” (i.e., torture) somewhere.

Enter another Golez statement. No one, says Golez, will be stopped on the streets for an ID check. “It’s not a situation,” says the national security adviser, “where [sic] you’re walking down the street and then the barangay captain will ask for your ID.”

In short: According to Golez the ID will be required only when a citizen has some business with government. No one who “looks like” a crook or a terrorist will be stopped for an ID check when he gets on a bus, for example.

If that is the case, the system would be next to useless. A number of town mayors who support the idea in fact assume, out of sync with Golez, that the system will necessarily require such checks.

“With the ID system,” says one of these mayors, “we can easily police our ranks and identify new faces in a community.” This statement makes sense only if it means stopping “new faces” in the community and asking them for their IDs. Which is only logical, but which also invites abuse.

Golez is thus either lying to blunt the edge of criticisms that the system will be an open invitation to abuse, or doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Golez, however, also says there will be no penalties for not having an ID card. He can tell that to the marines—and the local police and military.

There are no penalties in law for not having a cedula either, but there was a time when, in certain communities, one’s lack of it was sufficient “proof” for policemen and soldiers that one was an NPA guerrilla entitled to arbitrary detention, torture and even murder. In some localities this requirement is in fact imposed now and then at the whim of the local police or military commander.

A system which requires a particular document, in this case an ID card, will necessarily be interpreted as carrying with it sanctions for not carrying one. That assumption is part of the Philippine culture of authoritarianism, as well as a logical consequence of the requirement itself.

Neither Golez nor any one else in the Arroyo government has provided certain specifics—which government agency will issue the card, where it will come from and what systems of verification the government will put in place to assure the system’s integrity. This suggests that the system hasn’t been thought out well enough. The intensity with which the Arroyo government is pushing the proposal, however, suggests that it is committed to it come what may and whatever the cost.

That commitment is evident in the President’s decision to issue an executive order creating the system. Because it will entail considerable expense, and Congress controls the purse strings, Congress is the body with the authority to put the system in place through law. There is also the fact that the Supreme Court says so—which has led even the Arroyo government’s justice secretary, Hernando Perez, to urge it against putting the system in place through an executive order.

Despite the Supreme Court and Congress, however, the Arroyo government is apparently determined to put in place a system that (1) has not been well-thought-out; (2) is unlikely to achieve its stated purposes; and (3) is more than likely to lead to the usual abuses.

The question, of course, is why. The suspicion is inevitable that the most compelling reason is that this is somebody’s money-making scheme, and that behind the doublespeak is some contractor eager to get his hands on the hundreds of millions he could make off a government scheme that would put another useless ID card in our wallets.

(TODAY, ABS-CBNNEWS.COM, October 25, 2002)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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