Manila – If Thailand hopes to prevent bombs from being triggered by mobile phones in the restive South by embarking on a registration exercise of their owners, thePhilippines is banking on a national identification system to keep track of terrorists. Under the ID system, Filipinos are required to submit to the authorities their basic data, such as name, sex, place and date of birth, tax number and thumb and index fingerprints.
President Gloria Arroyo has signed an Executive Order to implement the plan in two months’ time. The plan was first proposed as a security measure aimed at boosting the Philippines’ fight against terrorism. But the Arroyo government has since said that the ID system is also aimed at facilitating official transactions as well as reducing the cost of issuing multiple cards.
It has assured Filipinos that all information in the national data bank will be classified as "strictly confidential”, to be released or modified only with the consent of the individual. However, human rights’ groups and civil rights’ activists warn that the ID system could lead to an invasion of privacy and a clampdown against government critics under the guise of fighting terrorism. There are speculations that the ID system could be used in the profiling of Filipino-Muslims and that foreign governments could be allowed access to information in the data bank.
A group of non-governmental organisations, led by the Philippine Alliance for Human Rights Advocate, said in a statement: "With safeguards against state abuses rolled back, we can only fear what the repercussions would be for Filipino workers and social movements, as well as how this would play in the profiling and ensuing discrimination of our Muslim community.”
In an editorial, The Philippine Star expressed support for the plan even as it criticised the government over its handling of the issue.
The newspaper said: "The national ID system, when fully implemented, will not be a mere security tool, although that will be its most striking feature for those who have something to hide. Anonymity is desirable only for criminals, terrorists and rebels whose sympathisers in their political fronts are expectedly raising a howl over the launch of the system."
However, it added, "many things can go wrong with this system. Information stored in the database must be accurate; the ID cards must be tamper-proof. The government must do everything right, giving critics no reason to exult later: 'I told you so!' ”
* Nothing to hide (The Philippine Star, April 24)
* ID won’t defeat terrorists, says Nene (The Manila Times, April 23)
* Order on National ID challenged (Inquirer News Service, April 22)