COMMENT: Military rule in Sulu? By Patricio P. Diaz

Very recently, Gov. Sakur Tan, evidently on the prodding of Marine brigade commander Col. Natalio C. Ecarma, launched the ID system to curb crimes and deter terrorism and to serve as the basis of the local census. What local census? This is a reminder of the martial law period when civilian authorities would readily submit to the wishes of local military commanders.

According to the Sulu Media Desk, with Patikul as the pilot town, the provincial government will “issue identification cards in all towns” with “the support of the local government officials and the citizens themselves”.  (MindaNews, January 31) The press statement from the office of the governor was as expected.

Slips Showing

But slips are showing.  While no local mayor is expected to oppose, militant Muslim groups in Sulu and elsewhere in Mindanao are opposing the imposition of the identification cards as illegal, a violation to the right to privacy and a threat to human rights. Citizens’ support is only assumed.

The military hand is clearly imprinted in the ID card. It bears two seals – that of the 3rd Marine Brigade on the upper right and of the local government of Patikul on the upper left. The lone signatory is Colonel Ecarma.  Why are the governor and the mayor of Patikul not signatories?

Without any local or national law as the basis, the ID in Patikul is required of all residents aged 12 and above.  This is according to military intelligence that rebel groups are recruiting children as young as 12 years old.


Sen. Aquilino Pimentel suggested “to all concerned to revoke the IDs issued without legal basis in Sulu”.  His “suggestion” is to the military and the Sulu governor. (MindaNews, January 31)

Congress, Pimentel said, is enacting “a law mandating a national ID system in accordance with a decision of the Supreme Court”.   He deplored the “mandatory issuance and wearing” of the IDs as “ordered by the military” in Sulu without waiting for the law being enacted. He questioned the AFP leadership for “tolerating this illegal activity”.

Pimentel’ fears are also the fears of militant and human rights groups: “The ID unnecessarily makes dissidents out of the residents of the province who think that IDs are illegal.” Those not wearing IDs will be harassed or detained as terrorists and criminals. That will “uselessly create tension”.

In Congress

Last January 7, the AFP proposed to the President the imposition of a national ID system “as a means to crush the 38-year-old communist insurgency”. [On hindsight, the Sulu ID is pursuant to that proposal.] However, this could not be done by a mere executive order but through a law passed by Congress. (, January 9)

On the 8th, two bills were filed in the Senate and one in the House. Those in the Senate, by Pimentel and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, were for a national ID system to “facilitate citizen’s transactions with government agencies and even private firms” — purposes different from that of the military.
In the Senate, more are against than for the institution of a national ID system.  None of those favoring the system support the military purpose of using it as a tool in fighting the insurgency.

In the House, Rep. Edcel Lagman, a staunch supporter of President Arroyo, warned that a national ID system would increase “the purported pervasive fear over the Human Security Act” or the anti-terror law – depriving citizens “of peace of mind arising from arbitrary intrusion into their private lives and affairs…”


Is a national ID system necessary to fight the insurgency? That is like asking: Should police or military rule be imposed in the Philippines to defeat the CPP-NPA insurgents? The 14 years of martial law worsened the insurgency.

In theory, it would be easy to identify dissidents with a national ID system.  Anyone with no ID becomes a prime suspect.  That’s following false logic: A negative premise can not lead to a positive conclusion.  What if a good citizen has lost his ID?  What if he left it at home? That does not make him an insurgent or a terrorist. His having no ID does not necessarily make a B’laan or a Manobo or any member of a mountain tribe an insurgent or terrorist.

The recourse of the military to the ID system is an admission of its poor intelligence network.

The Abu Sayyaf numbers only in hundreds. According to the military, there are 5,760 NPA rebels in 87 Fronts in the whole country – averaging 66 to 67 per Front. A good intelligence network can easily spot them should they venture into the population areas.

Granting that IDs would be limited to Filipinos 18 years old and above, that could number about 50 to 60 million or more IDs. Why spend millions – if not billions – of pesos (P5- to P6-billion at P100 each) to isolate a handful of rebels and terrorists?  Isolating them is not bagging them.  And to have good cover, their sympathizers can be wearing IDs.  The proposal is irrational.


As a means to eradicate terrorism and insurgency, a national ID is irrational. As Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said, “The national ID is nothing but a tool to identify and suppress perceived enemies of the administration and a false security blanket against crime and terrorism.” (, January 9) He may be wrong but he can be right.

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said:  “I don’t see the need for a national ID.  Having a national ID will not solve the problem of insurgency.  Eradication … of poverty is the solution.” (From same as above)

Is a national ID necessary to facilitate transactions with government agencies and private firms? There are a number of existing reliable IDs for legal identification – Philhealth, SSS, GSIS, BIR, Passport, to name a few.  For good character, the police, barangay, and NBI clearances are already being required. In the United States, driver’s ID is valid for identification.

A national ID may just be an option for those having no legally reliable IDs and would not want to go through the tedious process of getting police, barangay and NBI clearances should a need arise. Then, as Sen. Francis Escudero said, the national IDs would not be “an added burden on Juan dela Cruz”.  (From same as above)

Back to Sulu

According to the MindaNews report, the Sulu provincial ID system is “not part of the proposed national ID system” but a local government initiative at the prodding of the military. The more reason there is to disallow the continuance of the experiment in Patikul. It is illegal.

Clearly, the Sulu provincial ID is a military ID.  Such can be imposed on civilians only under a military rule.  The Sulu provincial government has obviously submitted to such a rule.

President Arroyo, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, should order the Sulu ID caper stopped. It’s time the military is reminded of the doctrine of supremacy of civilian rule embodied in the Constitution – unless she would encourage military rule wherever the military is operating. (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to