Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines with PhilSys

Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that can threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion in social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had a good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital ID, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They were also more successful in maintaining service continuity when in-person interactions could be moved online.

For the Philippines this presented a challenge and tensions were felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan laws.

Fortunately, the country is working to close digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also revolutionary – projects undertaken in the country.

The Philippines is one of 23 countries without a national identification system. As a result, Filipinos must present multiple pieces of identification (and often specific pieces of identification that many do not have) when doing transactions, including with the government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable in the population. . Information in government databases is often inconsistent. These are undermining the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help solve this problem by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy measures by design.

The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for the adoption by DSWD of the PhilSys is a milestone on the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to use the secure SMS and biometric identity authentication offered by PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilot projects with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino (4Ps) and People in Crisis Assistance Program (AICS) will begin in the coming months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.

Adopting PhilSys will allow DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating the verification and business processes of its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will help identify and eliminate phantom, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to combat leaks, fraud and corruption, and thereby build transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with assistance from PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent information on beneficiaries across all programs.

The World Bank supports these DSWD initiatives through the FIRST Beneficiary social protection project (for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation).

Importantly, these changes will translate into benefits for Filipinos.

Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or electronic money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, over 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts when signing up to PhilSys. And the resources saved by DSWD can be redirected to meet the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to the Internet and social protection programs.

Beyond the social protection benefits, the digital transformation that PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental for the Philippines’ pivot to revive the economy and get poverty eradication back on track. The success of using PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as by the private sector.

But digital transformation is not easy. It’s not just about digitizing things. It’s about re-imagining how things can be done for the best, with technology as the catalyst. Scanning bad systems or processes simply leads to scanning bad systems or processes. Digital transformation therefore depends and cannot be as rapid as process reengineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.

The digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.

The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to stepping up support for the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether natural disasters or pandemics – but will also be ready to take advantage of the opportunities offered by COVID-19 (shifting online activities) and those that waiting for us in the COVID-19 world post.
first published in The Philippine Star, via the World Bank

Joel C. Hicks