How the Philippines tapped on open-source to implement digital identity and improve services

By Yen OcampoYong Shu Chiang

Rolled out during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines’ national digital ID programme, the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys), has since become a trusted national ID that supports social protection programmes and financial inclusion.

The Philippines tapped on the Modular Open-Source Identity Platform to accelerate its development and rollout of PhilSys. 

This story is part of GovInsider's special report on DPI. Click here to read more of GovInsider's coverage of DPI.

Implementing the Philippines’ national digital identification system amid the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be challenging. 


“The logistical nightmare of registering millions of individuals within a quarantine framework loomed large,” says Rene Mendoza, Assistant National Statistician, Systems and Information Security Service, at the PhilSys Registry Office under the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) to GovInsider.


Despite the odds, PSA successfully registered 50 million people in 2021 when the Philippine Identification System, or PhilSys, was launched. Mendoza says that the original timeline for the development of PhilSys was a “leisurely” five years.  


However, with the urgency to facilitate access to social benefits during the pandemic, the PSA was compelled to shorten the project timeline significantly.


“We found ourselves racing against the clock to meet unprecedented demand. Throughout these trials, the unwavering objective remained clear: to ensure that assistance reached those in need,” says Mendoza.


In developing PhilSys, the PSA team decided to adapt an open-source solution based on microservices and open standards, the Modular Open-Source Identity Platform (MOSIP), which was incubated by the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIITB). The IITB has since begun playing host to the Centre for Digital Public Infrastructure, which helps countries rollout DPI solutions.


On 15 February, the team behind PhilSys won a Future of Government Award in the category of Open Source Adaptation. The award recognises the government entity that has most effectively adapted an open-source solution by applying it in a different context or setting. 

Open-source: Cost efficient and flexible


Mendoza says that the decision to opt for open-source adaptation, going against a traditional preference for proprietary software within the Philippines’ government, was to avoid vendor lock-in and to ensure cost efficiency. 


“In rolling out a national programme like PhilSys, the need for flexibility in technology systems at different stages of implementation is critical. Not only does this reduce substantial project costs in the long run, but also opens our national ID to a scale of new options for improvement,” he says.


MOSIP’s architecture aligned with the technical and functional requirements of PhilSys, Mendoza adds, and the open standards also “work to our advantage by driving innovation and interoperability by default, not as premium features with additional costs.”  


Emily Pagador, Assistant National Statistician, Use Case Development and Management Service, at the PhilSys Registry Office says that the successful adaptation of MOSIP into PhilSys “has showcased the potential of open-source software to serve government functions effectively.” 


While some countries took nearly a decade to implement similar systems, PhilSys was rolled out within  a shorter timeframe. 


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Improving the delivery of services 


Citizens can use PhilSys to verify their identity with either a physical card or a digital ID. This is pivotal in helping the government offer valuable services, as it offers an authoritative source of individual identity.  


Pagador says that the authorities are currently prioritising the use of PhilSys to roll out social protection programmes. PhilSys helps to accurately identify beneficiaries, so that benefits and services can reach the intended recipients, and prevent “leakage”, whereby individuals exploit multiple identities to claim benefits fraudulently. 


The seamless integration with other government agencies is also facilitated through open APIs, which streamlines authentication processes and enhances interoperability.  


This technology simplifies information exchange, eliminating the need for individuals to present multiple credentials across various government entities. 


Other future benefits may include voter registration, disbursing social and financial assistance, new farmer registration, as well as in areas such as social security, inland revenue, insurance, and social welfare and development. 

Supporting the underserved in banking 


The adoption of a national ID, serving as a reliable and universally accepted form of identification, has also allowed more individuals to access banking services, loans and other financial products. 


The central bank of the Philippines, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), has issued a memorandum circular to endorse PhilSys as an acceptable identity platform for use in the private sector. 


“Individuals can now engage in digital transactions, including opening bank accounts online, leveraging the platform's digital identity capabilities.” Pagador says. “The PSA aims to advance financial inclusion efforts further and empower more Filipinos to access essential financial services.” 


The system captures biometric data during registration, including iris scans, facial recognition, and fingerprints, enabling secure authentication even without a physical card.  


Pagador believes that widespread acceptance of PhilSys is crucial in ensuring that more individuals, regardless of background or location, can fully participate in the country's financial system. 

Wider acceptance, greater usability  


According to Pagador, the next step for PhilSys is to ensure its wider acceptance.  


Efforts to promote awareness and understanding of the national ID system are underway through comprehensive information and education campaigns targeting both government agencies and citizens. These initiatives aim to elucidate the benefits of registering for a national ID and outline its practical applications in various contexts. 


“By facilitating dialogue and sharing information, these initiatives contribute to a more informed and prepared ecosystem for the adoption and utilisation of the national ID system,” Pagador says. 


By expanding access to authentication services and catering to legacy systems not suited to API integration, the national ID system can then become more inclusive and accessible across multiple sectors. 


This story is part of GovInsider's special report on DPI. Click here to read more of GovInsider's coverage of DPI.