Wednesday, October 24, 2018
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With Due Respect

Controversial national ID system

Noting that the House of Representatives has already approved a bill to set up a national identification system, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said a few days ago that the Senate will pass its version after the Christmas recess of Congress.

Right to privacy. The constitutionality and desirability of a national ID has long been a festering controversy. On Dec. 12, 1996, then President Fidel V. Ramos issued Administrative Order No. 308 (AO 308) to establish a “National Computerized Identification Reference System.”

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However, a divided Supreme Court invalidated AO 308 in Ople vs Torres (July 23, 1998) basically on two grounds: 1) violation of the constitutional right to privacy, and 2) a national ID may be instituted only by Congress.

In his ponencia, Justice (later Chief Justice) Reynato Puno contended that the national ID system “will put our people’s right to privacy in clear and present danger” and the “vast reservoir of personal information [collected in the ID] constitutes a covert invitation to misuse, a temptation that may be just too great for some of our authorities to resist.”

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The dissenters led by Justice Vicente Mendoza argued that AO 308 did not encroach on such right because the President’s order merely included the data already provided by citizens to various government offices via existing laws. He added that the data gathered would be used only for identification, not as “an instrument of thought control.”

In the end, eight justices (Puno, Hilario Davide Jr., Florenz Regalado, Flerida Ruth Romero, Josue Bellosillo, Jose Vitug, Artemio Panganiban and Antonio Martinez) voted to invalidate AO 308 while six (Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, Justices Jose Melo, Santiago Kapunan, Mendoza, Leonardo Quisumbing and Fidel Purisima) dissented.

However, the constitutional issue was not resolved. Of the eight majority justices, only three gave their unqualified concurrence to the ponencia. J. Davide joined my separate opinion that the AO should be invalidated simply because a national ID can be instituted only by Congress, not by the President. Also, in his separate opinion, J. Vitug said that a law was “indispensable” while J. Regalado simply concurred “in the result.”

New controversy. The national ID controversy was resurrected nine years later, on April 13, 2005, when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 420 (EO 420) directing all government agencies to adopt a uniform data collection and format for their existing but separately issued ID cards.

In Kilusang Mayo Uno vs Director General (April 19, 2006), the Supreme Court, speaking through Justice Antonio Carpio (concurred in by Chief Justice Panganiban, Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Alicia Austria-Martinez, Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio Morales, Romeo Callejo, Dante Tinga, Minita Chico-Nazario and Cancio Garcia) upheld EO 420.

The Court reasoned that the President was authorized to issue the EO because it was purely an administrative order directed only at the offices under the executive branch of government—like the Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System and Land Transportation Office—to issue a single, unified card in lieu of multiple cards.

When law is needed. The Court said that legislation is needed only when 1) the ID system will require an appropriation, 2) it is compulsory for all branches of the government and all citizens, and 3) the data collected go “beyond those routinely or usually required” to transact business with the offices concerned.

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The dissenters (Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and Adolfo Azcuna) reiterated the right to privacy arguments of J. Puno (who was on leave when the vote was taken) in Ople vs Torres.

Going back to the current effort to legislate a national ID, I agree with Senator Lacson that the data should be confined to basics, like full name, birthdate, birthplace, age and gender. I also agree with Sen. Franklin Drilon that the ID should be “incentive-based,” not “security-based,” to facilitate government transactions, not to screen people for security purposes. I think these suggestions will solve the constitutional objection.

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, fidel v. ramos, national ID system, panfilo lacson, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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