National ID poised to fulfill promise of better aid distribution

By Beatrice M. Laforga, Reporter

REYNALDO L. ANGARA, 70, a barangay chairman in Tondo, Manila, confessed to struggling with distributing Social Amelioration Program (SAP) cash aid in April, when poor recipients needed it most after the lockdown took away their ability to earn a livelihood.

The main difficulty, he said, was the inability of many to produce valid and reliable identification.

Tasked with gathering initial information and identifying possible beneficiaries, Mr. Angara also cited the absence of guidance from higher-ups on how to establish identity and ensure that the aid goes to the poorest segments of society.

“Ang problema, kaya di mabigay ‘yung SAP, ang policy nila ibibigay sa mga poorest eh since wala namang ID ang mga tao, hindi ma-identify kung ito mayaman, may trabaho o may mga ari-arian kasi ang ID nila, ‘yung iba wala talaga (The problem in distributing SAP was that most of the poorest families it intended to reach do not have valid ID. Lack of ID makes it difficult to determine their financial status),” he said in an interview.

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That month, the government launched its P200-billion SAP to provide emergency relief to 18 million low-income families severely affected by the strict lockdown imposed in mid-March.

Much of the economy shut down, workers’ incomes were slashed while many were laid off, but the P5,000-P8,000 cash aid per family per month went a long way towards ensuring their survival. However, it was distributed slowly in the absence of a reliable database.

“Had the National ID been in place, it would have been easier to establish the identities of people registering for the various social protection programs made available during the pandemic,” Jose Ramon G. Albert, a senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), said in an e-mail.

To identify potential beneficiaries, the staff of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) relied on a list created at the start of the program, along with the department’s own database. Interviews by local officials were also conducted for validation, a process made much more difficult by stay-at-home orders and social-distancing rules.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself expressed dissatisfaction with the delayed implementation of the national ID system, saying it could have helped speed up the process of reaching aid beneficiaries.

Wala tayong ID system until now. Kung may ID system lang tayo, na-iwasan natin itong mga ito (We have no national ID in place; we could have avoided the delays in distributing aid),” Mr. Duterte said in an online speech in April.

Republic Act No. 11055 or the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) Act, was signed into law in August 2018 to establish a national ID, cut down on redundant government-issued IDs, and help cardholders more easily establish their identity when opening bank accounts.

The law authorized a P27.8-billion budget to set up the system covering the entire population eventually, with the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) designated the main implementing agency and the central bank tasked with printing out the physical cards.

National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa, who heads the PSA, said the agency was given a total of P7.1 billion between 2018 and 2020 to procure all the systems needed to launch the program and start the registration process.

“The DSWD is looking forward to the PhilSys so that we can efficiently and effectively deliver the social services… for the poor families and other vulnerable sectors. With a national ID in place, the DSWD will make use of it to identify beneficiaries of our various social protection programs,” DSWD Spokesperson Irene B. Dumlao told BusinessWorld by telephone.

Ms. Dumlao said the department’s programs that will be facilitated by the national ID are the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the Sustainable Livelihood Program, the Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens, the Supplementary Feeding Program, and the Unconditional Cash Transfer Program.

The PSA was still finishing the procurement process when SAP was launched, and with ongoing safety protocols and mobility restrictions, mass registration only started in October.

To date, more than 5.035 million heads of household have been pre-registered as of Nov. 16, well past the halfway point of the government’s target of nine million individuals by year’s end. Pre-registration is the first of a two-step process in applying for the national ID, in which PSA personnel conduct house-to-house visits to targeted households to gather basic demographic information and schedule the next step.

Crunch time for the program could be 2021, when 40 million more are due to be registered, which will include a biometric scan, a key security feature of the ID.

The agency’s budget for the program next year was also increased to P4.1 billion to further accelerate the rollout. Mr. Mapa said the bulk of the budget will go to the printing of physical cards and the actual registration, which will involve deploying PSA personnel to field offices near the registrants.

The agency is currently in the planning stages with the DSWD, the main agency in charge of aid distribution, Rosalinda P. Bautista, deputy national statistician and an assistant secretary at the PSA, said in an interview.

“The DSWD plans to utilize the national ID system to ensure proper identification of our clients or beneficiaries and thereby eliminating misrepresentation and duplication of claims and assistance. The national ID system will further systemize the targeting and will facilitate the identification of vulnerable sectors and groups. This will also help the department proactively develop and deliver social protection programs,” the DSWD’s Ms. Dumlao said.

The national ID will contain a unique serial number — the PhilSys Number (PSN) — giving cardholders the ability to monitor transactions using their PSNs.

The hope is to reduce the risk of fraud, double registration and money laundering because of the centralized database, and help cardholders build up a credit history, especially among the unbanked.

“This will be especially beneficial in social welfare and social security programs, where the PhilSys will contribute to ensuring that the right beneficiaries are receiving benefits (e.g. through verification and by linking the PSN to a beneficiary’s financial address), and the financial sector, where the PhilSys will contribute to addressing money-laundering risks and better credit history data,” PSA’s Ms. Bautista said.

The registrars found that 88% of the participants in the initial phase of registration do not have formal bank accounts, raising the prospect of increasing their access to financial services. Possession of a bank account will help even more in depositing future aid packages.

PIDS’ Mr. Albert noted that registration with the national ID should be mandatory because it may be difficult to convince many individuals to register if they have other government-issued IDs.

“What should be set up are accountability mechanisms to ensure that people are protected and not being harmed by the use of data,” he added.

While restrictions due to the pandemic have hampered the implementation of the national ID this year, the PSA is hoping that delays will be minimized in 2021 as registration ramps up.

On the ground, Mr. Angara, a barangay captain for nearly three decades, said he hopes the national ID will finally be rolled out, foreseeing an easier time for his constituents in obtaining government aid, business permits, and job applications.

Malaking tulong sa amin yun. Nakakaawa naman ang mga tao, entitled sila sa government benefits pero dahil lang walang barangay certificate, hindi makakakuha. (It will be a big help for us. It is a shame that people entitled to government benefits cannot avail because they do not have at least a barangay certificate),” he said.

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