Another Jab at Civil Liberties

In late 2005 up to 2006 the Arroyo government tried to curtail the freedom of speech and assembly through the Calibrated Preemptive Response, silence the media through the issuance of guidelines by the PNP, and twist and bend its laws and legal procedures to run after its critics especially from the legal Left. It also tried to impose an illegal curfew in 2007.  And now, with the Anti-Terrorism Law, euphemistically called Human Security Act of 2007, in place, a National ID system would be the last nail that would seal the fate of our civil liberties and human rights.

VII No. VII, No. 48, January 13-19, 2008

The Macapagal-Arroyo administration is at it again.  It can never really resist the temptation to curtail civil liberties.  Remember its failed efforts at curtailing the freedom of speech and assembly via the Calibrated Preemptive Response policy; its attempts at silencing the media through so-called guidelines issued by the Philippine National Police (PNP); its martial law-like declaration of a state of national emergency; its illegal declaration of a curfew; and the way it twisted in its own laws and legal procedures in running after its critics especially from the legal Left?

After receiving a lot of flak for its plan to revive the obsolete anti-subversion law, it now wants to monitor and control the people’s movements and violate the right to privacy via enforcing a National ID system. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon is not hiding the real reasons behind the government’s moves to implement the National ID system, it is for counter-insurgency. And when the Arroyo government implements something in the name of counter-insurgency, we might as well kiss our human rights and civil liberties goodbye.

The spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, which victimized more than a thousand unarmed legal activists, was the product of the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya I and II (Operation Freedom Watch). Likewise was the creation of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), an insidious task force the mission of which was to twist and bend laws and legal procedures, and to manufacture evidences and rehash witnesses to run after personalities from the legal Left.

It is true that the concept of a national ID system is not new. The U.S. has its system revolving around the social security number and ID, and so do many European countries.  But there are two things that make the implementation of an ID system in the Philippines  useless and dangerous.

For one, the social security system in the Philippines is practically nil especially for those without jobs; and they are the ones who are most in need of social benefits and services.  Those with jobs, on the other hand, do not need another ID.  What they need is an increase in the social benefits that they are entitled to. Actually, those who can and do avail of sickness and disability benefits, pensions, and other social security benefits, do not encounter problems with identification, their main problem is the insufficiency of what they can avail of. Likewise, those who access health centers and enroll in public schools do not need an ID, a certification from barangay (village) officials is enough. Their main problem is the lack in health service providers, medicines, and equipment in centers, and the lack in teachers, learning materials and classrooms in public schools.

Second, the National ID system being contemplated in the Philippine is going to be used primarily for counter-insurgency.  And when the AFP and PNP conduct counter-insurgency operations, they wreak havoc on the people’s rights.

The first time a national ID system was used for counter-insurgency operations was in Vietnam during the late 60s and early 70s. It was introduced by U.S. military advisers and was implemented by joint units of U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. It was used for controlling the movement of the population to deny local support for the Vietcong. Well, as history has shown, it did not diminish local support for the Vietcong; but it did result in extinguishing of a lot of lives of the rural folk.

Actually, a rudimentary form of ID system is already in place in rural communities, most probably introduced by U.S. military advisers to their AFP counterparts.  AFP troops conduct a census of communities where they operate.  The names of household members are posted on the doors or walls of houses and anybody they chance upon who are not in the list are abducted or immediately executed. The fate suffered by UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, and farmer Manuel Merino at the hands of soldiers is a grim example of what would befall visitors in communities where AFP troops are conducting military operations.

With a more systematic and comprehensive ID system, we could expect a more systematic neutralization (read: killings) of those whom the government and the AFP suspect as supporters and members of “insurgents and rebel groups.” And what would also prevent the Arroyo government from using the same ID system in running after its critics just like it did to progressive representatives of Bayan Muna (People First), Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), and Gabriela Women’s Party? Don’t you notice that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration is wont to take a jab at our civil liberties and human rights every time it is deeply enmeshed in a political crisis?  With the Anti-Terrorism Law, euphemistically called Human Security Act of 2007, in place, a National ID system would be the last nail that would seal the fate of our civil liberties and human rights.(

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