National identity crisis

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am

Intellectuals here like saying that because of all their colonial experiences, Filipinos have no identity. Well, the government has a solution for that. It wants to give each Filipino a card that will tell him (or her) exactly who he (or she) is.

The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is campaigning heavily for a national ID card, a document that each citizen will be compelled to carry and produce to any official who demands it. The card will contain all the information the government has on the individual.

Does the word 'Gestapo' come to mind? Anyway, supporters of the scheme love to point out how other countries have such cards, implying that you have not really arrived as a nation until you have dossiers on your citizens. You, however, might think that the true sign of national maturity is a justice system that works, and politicians who are not grossly corrupt and abusive. But this is just the sort of carping liberalism guaranteed to find its way, as a notation, into your file.

The government argues that it needs the ID to fight terrorism and help prevent atrocities, such as the recent wave of bombings. I am not exactly sure how such a scheme can stop bombers striking, unless authorities intend to issue cards to the bombs themselves, which conjures up really weird images.

Policeman: 'No ID, eh? You're under arrest.'

Bomb: 'But I'm not a terrorist device, I'm a firecracker. I'm just late for the Lunar New Year.'

Perhaps the Arroyo government hopes that when they get their national ID forms to fill in, the villains will be thoughtful enough to write 'terrorist' in the space for 'profession'. That should flush them out, for sure.

An ID card could identify the poor in the country, so that the government can target them for more taxes. It could aid law enforcement: for example, if a senator's son decides to discharge an assault rifle in a crowded parking lot. The police would seize him, examine his ID card, verify his identity and then release him at once, saving a lot of embarrassment.

Because setting up the scheme is such a delicate job, the government will want to entrust it to reputable hands - perhaps the same consortium that won the bid to modernise the voting system; members of the group vanished as soon as they were paid, but I am sure they will turn up.

Anyway, there is nothing more reassuring than knowing that all your most important personal data has been put in the hands of a few people you do not know, and is liable to inspection by such reliable Philippine officials as generals and politicians. This is the sort of knowledge that will let Filipinos sleep better at night, provided of course that those Filipinos sleep in America.