The government has declared it will soon implement a national ID programme, which will compel Filipinos to carry a card containing their personal data. It's a hard sell in a country that remembers how such documents were used as instruments of oppression. In a famous scene that every student learns about, national hero Andres Bonifacio declared the revolution against Spain by dramatically tearing up his identification certificate (cedula personal).
Nearly everyone here already carries personal documents of some sort. The slight hitch is that they're frequently of doubtful origin. For instance, when it was announced that holders of senior-citizen cards would get free entrance to movie theatres in Makati City, east of Manila, so many fake cards were made that the real ones were cancelled. Stubs have been issued instead, but it should only be a matter of time before they, too, are copied.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Many Filipinos carry fake passports, including one election official accused of helping President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pad out votes.
In downtown Manila, I think it's possible to descend through one entrance of the Quiapo underpass shopping complex and emerge at the other side a new person - equipped with fake ID and tax certificates. If that isn't enough, you can stroll over to nearby dealers and pick out a nice, forged university diploma.
Forgery is a time-honoured tradition here. But that's just one side of the coin; the other is the insane, constant demands to show identification. You can't even enter most buildings without an ID. And government bureaucracy is legendary for the way it issues documents - or doesn't. I know Filipinos who officially don't exist because, despite all their efforts, they've been unable to get copies of their birth certificates.
Along comes the national ID programme, which advocates say will be reliable and efficient. Let's see, as reliable as the Foreign Affairs Department's highly praised, machine-readable passports project? Oh, wait, they cancelled that abruptly last month. As efficient as the computerisation of voter IDs? Oops, hang on, that was scrapped when the contractors vanished with the money.
We're being asked to believe that our data will be safe in the hands of reliable and upright government officials who won't abuse their power. I probably speak for many Filipinos when I reply: 'Yeah, and my old grandmother was a professional basketball player.'
Given the history of distrust, corruption and abuse when it comes to documents, the likelihood of a national ID scheme being successful is probably the same as the chance of Jesus coming back soon. If he does, they should check his ID.