A digital Philippines: Leveraging ID for a digital social protection delivery

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Woman getting her photo taken for her ID in the Philippines. © Ezra Acayan/World Bank Group Woman getting her photo taken for her ID in the Philippines. © Ezra Acayan/World Bank Group


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fundamental role digital ecosystems can play in helping a country to rapidly deliver services and relief to its people, such as healthcare education, and social assistance. Countries that already had in place the “stack” of digital IDs, digital payments, and data sharing platforms, were better prepared to respond to the pandemic and to maintain continuity of services by shifting to online channels.   

The Philippines provides a great example of a government addressing digital ecosystem gaps – strengthening the foundational ID, digital data governance, and digital payments systems.  One of the few countries without a foundational ID system beyond its civil registry, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) started rolling out the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) in 2019.  

Learning from the challenges of social assistance delivery without a foundational ID during the COVID-19 response, PSA recognized digital SP delivery as a priority area and is now working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to use PhilSys for the digital transformation of the country’s major social assistance programs. The World Bank has been supporting this effort through a number of initiatives (the Beneficiary FIRST Social Protection Project, the Promoting Competitiveness and Enhancing Resilience to Natural Disasters Development Policy Loan series, and the Identification for Development (ID4D) and Digitizing Government to Person Payments (G2Px) sister initiatives.)  

We spoke with World Bank’s Yoonyoung Cho and Jonathan Marskell about the impact of digital transformation of social protection and government service delivery in the Philippines. Cho is a Senior Economist at the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice and is the Task Leader of Beneficiary FIRST Social Protection Project and the Philippines G2Px program. Marskell is a Senior Program Officer at the ID4D initiative, which is supporting the PhilSys across a wide range of topics. 

Why is it important for a country to have a foundational ID system? How will PhilSys help social protection delivery? 

Jonathan: The ability for someone to prove their identity is increasingly a pre-requisite for accessing services including social protection support from the government.  As more transactions move online, digital ID systems are needed to allow people to securely prove who they are remotely, without physical interaction. 

According to the 2017 ID4D-Findex Survey, one fifth of the poorest Filipinos have been denied government services and one seventh have been denied government financial support because they lacked an ID. The PhilSys is important because many Filipinos lack what’s known locally as a ‘primary ID’, like a passport or driving license. As a result, when they access a service like at a municipality or bank, they have to present multiple physical documents, often including a certified copy of a birth certificate, which creates barriers and costs.  

How is the multi-sectoral effort in digital delivery of social protection in the Philippines positively impacting the lives of its recipients? 

Yoonyoung: It supports the government’s initiatives to develop the transformational digital trilogy: digital ID (PhilSys), digital payments, and digital data governance. Citizens accessing government-to-persons (G2P) payments can easily prove their identity using the national ID without a lengthy application process and with less paperwork and receive benefits through digital channels quickly and securely without a long travel and wait time. Also, program implementers can use ID and interoperable information systems and databases to verify the beneficiaries’ eligibility and enroll them for suitable support programs. These efforts will save beneficiaries’ hassles, travel, time, and financial costs to access government’s services. 

In simple words, can you explain what the transformational digital trilogy or digital stack is? 

Jonathan: The “Digital Stack” brings together three core functions that are required for nearly all digital services: the ability to verify someone’s identity (digital ID), the ability to send and receive money (digital payments), and the ability to verify certain facts from authoritative databases (trusted data sharing). The idea of a “Stack” is that these functions can be integrated to allow anyone – whether public or private sector – to build their applications on top.  

How has shifting from cash to digital payments affected populations impacted by Covid-19? 

Yoonyoung: During the initial phase of COVID-19 response, the Philippine government used manual processes and physical cash delivery. It was soon realized that such delivery mechanisms are unsafe and inefficient. Thus, efforts to shift cash transfer to digital payments followed through the partnership with financial service providers. As a result, the access points came closer to beneficiaries, and the average travel and waiting time to cash out the benefits went down significantly by about 45 minutes (170.3 minutes in the manual payments and 126.6 minutes in the digital payments with a large variation across different financial service providers and agents).  

For Jonathan: how is the partnership between PSA and DSWD beneficial to the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys? 

Jonathan: DSWD’s beneficiaries are the Filipinos who have the most to gain by having a digital ID. Many will be able to more easily access government services, with less direct and indirect costs, such as taking time off to obtain different documents to prove their identity. 

Likewise, PhilSys provides an opportunity for DSWD to take its programs to the next level, with better data, more beneficiary-centric processes, and reductions in fraud and leakages. This will be game-changing for the Philippines’ mission to end poverty.  

What have been some of the challenges in addressing digital eco-system gaps and mainstreaming digital SP delivery? 

Yoonyoung: Bringing digital innovation requires changes in process, people, and technology.  This means that the business process has to be reimagined with a beneficiary centered approach, capabilities of users of the digital eco-systems should be enhanced, and digital technologies should be optimally utilized. However, digital innovations are often equated with upgrading IT equipment and digitalizing existing processes. The business-as-usual inertia has been a major bottleneck to digital innovations, and breaking it will be key to success. 


Faher Elfayez

External affairs officer, World Bank’s Identification for Development (ID4D) and Digitizing Government to Person Payments (G2Px) initiatives

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