Bishops back Philippines' national ID system

Rights activists see move as government 'laying the foundation for military rule'
Bishops back Philippines' national ID system

Student activists stage a protest in Manila on Aug. 6 against the implementation of a national ID system. President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the Philippine Identification System Act, which aims to make public services more efficient. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

At least two Catholic bishops have expressed support for the implementation of a national identification system in the Philippines despite warnings from activists that it is prone to abuse.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said the new system would benefit migrant workers.

"We support the national ID system," said the prelate, adding that it can prevent bribery and red tape always encountered by migrant workers when dealing with government offices.

"Let us hope that this law will not be abused," said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

On Aug. 6, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Philippine Identification System Act, which aims to make public services more efficient.

The president urged Filipinos to support the implementation of the new law that he said would "promote good governance" and "create a more conducive environment for trade and commerce."

A single ID, called the "Phil-ID," will be issued to all citizens and resident aliens and will dispense with the need to present multiple IDs for different government transactions.

Human rights group Karapatan, however, said the national ID system is a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan spokeswoman, said the system will result in "wholesale rights violations," including the people's rights to freedom of movement and privacy and right against surveillance.

She said the national ID system "will be an underhand maneuver to screen and monitor people."

"This law will be very much prone to abuse, considering that our bureaucracy is already littered with militarists and ex-generals who have proven their contempt for people's rights," said Palabay.

She warned that the law is "an open temptation for power-hungry and bloodthirsty officials to intensify their pursuit and political persecution of political dissenters and government critics."

According to Karapatan, about 67,000 individuals have been subjected to various forms of threats, harassment, and intimidation during Duterte's term in office.

Palabay warned of an "alarming trend" of "discreet but systematic passage of repressive laws."

She said proposals are in Congress to amend the country's anti-terror law while subpoena powers have already been granted to the police.

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The human rights activist said that martial law in the southern Philippines and the national ID system "point to the regime's obsession in laying the foundation for military rule."

Duterte, however, allayed fears regarding privacy and security, noting that the information included in the new ID will be similar to information already in the possession of various government agencies.

He said the government would address all concerns pertaining to privacy and security.

"There is no basis at all for the apprehensions about the Phil-ID, unless of course that fear is based on anything that borders on illegal," the president said.

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