A crisis needs an ID | Inquirer Opinion
Like It Is

A crisis needs an ID

/ 05:04 AM April 23, 2020

As pointed out by Senators Vicente Sotto III, Panfilo Lacson, and Sherwin Gatchalian, and President Duterte himself, COVID-19 has brought to the fore the urgent need for a National ID for all Filipinos.

I’ve always been at a loss to understand why the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) had insisted on doing the National ID themselves when there were private sector companies that had done it before, and knew how to put in place a comprehensive system — and quickly.

The government had no expertise in this and only much later sought assistance from the Asian Development Bank, which also had no direct operating experience, only having ever been in an advisory role.

What was equally inexplicable was why the government would want to spend some P30 billion when, if the private sector did it, they’d absorb most of the cost and all the risk. With close to P300 billion needed for social amelioration programs, the government needs every peso it can get to help the new jobless, the closing restaurants, the struggling jeepney drivers, and the millions who now have no money and nowhere to get it.


Had the unsolicited proposal submitted by the private sector in August 2018 been accepted, many of us would have IDs now, something that would have made dealing with helping people in this COVID-19 crisis so much more reliable and honest.

Additionally, the private sector could provide a much more sophisticated and all-encompassing system that the government is incapable of doing. The system the government plans to build is anachronistic and limited only to face-to-face transactions with government. We need a system that has the ability to deal with online transactions and deal with the private sector in the many ways a smart ID could provide.

In August 2018, the government said it would be conducting pilot testing for the national ID system for 1 million households. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Subsequent promises have also been missed. The latest was in February 2019 when the government said 6 million would have a card by year-end. They didn’t. There’s no chance everyone will have a National ID by the end of Mr. Duterte’s term as promised.

So without an ID for COVID-19, expect all sorts of chicanery as the government tries to dole out assistance to those in need as their incomes disappear during the COVID-19 lockdown. How will the authenticity of the claimant for a dole-out be assured? With a National ID, it could have been easy to establish the legitimacy of a claimant.


Knowing who you are is the key to providing online services. Governments around the world are working toward that model. Countries with a well-constructed national ID system in place are able to offer secure and safe online services—for both government and private sector agencies, where all transactions could be undertaken. No need for the bureaucratic forms the Department of Social Welfare and Development is insisting on.

A secure and well-designed national ID system would provide a biometrically-secured authentication system that establishes a user’s identity with a much higher level of security than just using names and passwords. A wide range of government services can be made available online, so citizens don’t have to come into government offices and line up in order to conduct business with the government. With the enhanced community quarantine due to COVID-19, an online ID would have allowed all government services to continue uninterrupted.


In a well-designed system, biometric authentication can be done using a smartphone or computer that has a webcam that can match the citizens’ iris, voice, face, or fingerprints against their national identity record in a safe and secure manner that prevents spoofing attacks. And not only for government services, but also for banking, retail transactions, and other private services safely and efficiently. The government system can’t do this.

So that we can have an ID that can be used online (as the COVID-19 quarantine demands), the government should ask a private sector partner with wide experience in implementing national ID systems, and that already has the ability to handle remote authentication to take over and continue what has been started, but with a more comprehensive system.

This is not going to be the last crisis when an ID will be needed. Taal Volcano could blow anytime. Another “Ondoy” could be around the corner as climate warming upsets our planet. A secure remote-use National ID is essential for relief efforts in any disaster.

If I were Neda, I wouldn’t hesitate to have a private consortium take over from where it is now.

We needed an ID for COVID-19, we need it for the next disaster. The private sector can do it quicker, cheaper, and can provide an all-encompassing online system.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Like It Is, national ID system, NEDA, Peter Wallace

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