Senator Sherwin Gatchalian

MANILA – Following the government’s present difficulty in tracing persons suspected with Covid-19 infections, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Friday called for the immediate implementation of the National ID System to combat future pandemics.

"Matagal nang naipasa ang Philippine Identification System Act (PISA) sa bansa. Napapanahon na upang ito'y gamitin bilang tugon sa mga emergency situations tulad ng krisis na nararanasan natin ngayon (The PISA has been passed in the country. It is high time to use this law as a response to emergency situations like the present crisis we are experiencing)," Gatchalian said in a press statement.

The lawmaker pointed out that some countries with lower Covid-19 cases, like Taiwan and Singapore, used their respective national data to trace their citizens' travel history.

Since January when the world started taking notice of a new coronavirus disease that was rapidly spreading from the Chinese city of Wuhan, Taiwan integrated travel records from its National Immigration Agency with the National Health Insurance Administration's (NHIA) existing database to alert doctors of their patients' travel history.

By scanning the patient's NHI card, an alert will pop up if the patient has traveled to or transited through countries with high cases of Covid-19.

Singapore also made use of its National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) for collecting information for the purpose of contact tracing and other measures in its fight against Covid-19.

On the other hand, Gatchalian said the Philippine government has found it difficult to trace suspected Covid-19 infections due to the lack of a national database.

He said this was highlighted during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health assessing the Philippine government's preparedness on the outbreak of Covid-19 last February.

In that hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that they encountered difficulties tracing people who came in contact with Covid-19 patients because some have incomplete or erroneous contact details listed with airline companies.

"The Philippines may learn from the experiences of Singapore and Taiwan on how these countries harnessed their national IDs in containing the outbreak that is sweeping across the globe. That's why the government needs to implement the national ID system as soon as possible to ensure that we will be more ready in case of future pandemics," Gatchalian said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson is also urging for the implementation of the national ID system as a means to facilitate the distribution of government assistance, especially to the poor, in times of national emergencies.

He said the delay in rolling out the emergency cash subsidy to 18 million poor families as provided by the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act could be partly blamed in the delayed implementation of PISA.

“There is no perfect system of distribution of aid considering the number of families involved in the cash dole-out, further complicated by a less efficient database due to the late implementation of the National ID system,” Lacson said in a separate statement.

“Just as intelligence information can spell the difference between success and failure in my previous life in intelligence and law enforcement work, data is the key for our policymakers to make the right decisions at this critical time,” he said.

The Philippine Identification System Act (RA 11055), which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in August 2018, is aimed at creating a single official identification card for all citizens that would interconnect government-issued IDs.

The government has started pilot testing the national ID system last year, which originally was set to run up to June this year before formally rolling out the project in July next year.

The National ID System will have basic information to be sourced from data collected by the Philippine Statistics Authority. The cards will be given for free. (PNA)