The history of the cedula and national ID card in the Philippines

It was the month of August in 1896.  Katipuneros gathered in a small barrio not far from Manila in defiance of the Spanish colonial government.  Andres Bonifacio,the Supremoand leader of the Katipunanasked those who were present to “show their ‘cedulas,’ raise them high, and tear them into pieces.”  As the Katipuneros tore and destroyed their cedulas, the loud cry “Mabuhay ang kalayaan!” was heard.

The “cedula personal”was a mandatory identification card during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines.  This ID card was used when tribute was assessed and in determining those who were subject to “prestacion personal” or forced labor.  It also served as a residence tax certificate and as a passport. It was used by Spanish authorities to restrict the movement of people and those who could not present their cedulascould be arrested and imprisoned by the Guardia Civil.

The act of the Katipuneros in destroying theircedulas was a symbol of resistance and of liberating themselves and their country from colonialism.  It was a call to start the armed struggle against Spanish tyranny.

The practice of issuing thecedula personal was continued after Spain was forced out of the Philippines and the United States took over as the new colonial master.  Every male inhabitant over eighteen years of age and under sixty yearspaid an annual cedula personal tax or registration fee.  This mandatory registration was also enforced during the Japanese occupation.

Fast forward to the present and the cedulaas we know itworksas a community tax certificate,as a residence certificate, and as a legal identity document. It isconsidered a primary form of identification along with the driver’s license and the passport.

But this will change soon.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently signed into law the Philippine National ID System that will cover all residents in the country.

The system is hailed and promoted as a platform that willimprove the delivery of government services and reducethe redundancy of using multiple IDs.  Supporters of the law also claim that thenational ID will make it more convenient for Filipinos to avail and get access to government services.

There is a valid concern though that the national ID will be used by thegovernment to violate the people’s right to privacy or will be used by the military and police force against certain groups to the extent of violating their human and civil rights.

I can see and appreciate the value and importance of having a national identification system (when properly used) as a means of identification for citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents for the purposes of work, taxation, government benefits, health care, and other government and non-government related functions, transactions, and services.  In the U.S., we have the Social Security Administration that issues the social security card with one’s national or federal identification number and the card is normally used or presented with one’s state-issued ID card or driver’s license for identification purposes.

I can also see the value and benefit of a national ID card in the Philippines (again if it will be used properly and in the right way).  But the fear of those who oppose is valid and the government should address the same.  History is on the side of those who oppose as there are lessons learned in the past about howcedulas wereused to oppress the people.

Definitely, a national ID system should not be used to promote for example a political agendalike the present administration’s support of the move toshift to federalism.

The national ID system will help cut red-tape and bureaucracy if used properly and in the right way.  The national ID bill has been signed by the president and it will be enforced soon.  The big challenge for the government is how to use the system properly so that they can remove people’s doubts andstrengthen the trust and belief that the national ID law was passed for the benefitof the Filipino people.

Jojo Liangco is an attorney with the Law Offices of Amancio M. Liangco Jr. in San Francisco, California.  His practice is in the areas of immigration, family law, personal injury, civil litigation, business law, bankruptcy, DUI cases, criminal defense and traffic court cases.  Please send your comments to Jojo Liangco, c/o Law Offices of Amancio “Jojo” Liangco, 605 Market Street, Suite 605, San Francisco, CA 94105 or you can call him (415) 974-5336.  You can also visit Jojo Liangco’s website at