By Cai Ordinario, March 18 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Philippine Statistics Authority

The delay in the passage of the 2019 national budget has another possible casualty­—the Philippine Census of Population and Housing which should be conducted next year.

Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) Officer in Charge Rosalinda  Bautista told the BusinessMirror in an interview that many of the activities to prepare for the once-in-a-decade census are scheduled for this year.

This means the proposed P6.73-billion budget of the PSA already took into consideration a part of the 2020 Census. Foremost of these activities are the procurement of around 90,000 tablets that will be used for data collection.

“If the 2019 GAA [General Appropriations Act] is not approved, it looks like we cannot proceed with the 2020 Census,” Bautista said. “Although sometimes special funding can be given. We don’t know yet.”

Based on the proposed 2019 budget, the PSA intends to spend P1.31 billion to conduct the preparatory works for the 2020 Census.

However, Bautista said that if the 2018 budget of the PSA will be used, the agency will fall short of P1.205 billion since only P95 million can be allocated for Census preparation.

To enable the PSA to conduct Census preparations under a reenacted budget, Bautista several periodic surveys may not be undertaken. But this, she said, is “simply unimaginable.”

Baka ’pag dudugtong-dugtungin natin ’yung budget sa lahat ng survey at hindi na tayo mag-survey, baka dun lang tayo makaka-census [Only if we pool the funds from all the surveys of PSA can we be able to make room for the Census budget],” she said.

“We need [over a] billion for the Census. The procurement of the tablets will be done in 2019 that’s why the budget is large,” Bautista added.

She said the tablets will be leased as this is less costly for the government. However, the procurement of around 90,000 tablets entails expense and is time-consuming as no single supplier can provide all the requirements of the PSA.

Apart from this, the PSA, by law, is mandated to employ teachers to conduct the survey. This means the Census has to be conducted during summer vacation.

The public-school teachers will be “paid an honorarium as may be determined by the National Census Coordinating Board but not less than P250 and shall receive service credits equivalent to the number of days rendered in census work.”

Bautista said this means the PSA still needs to make the necessary arrangements with the Department of Education (DepEd) so the agency can tap public-school teachers.

If the Census will be held after the summer months, she said the DepEd may not allow the teachers to assist in conducting the survey.

Under Batas Pambansa 72, Bautista said the Census should be conducted every May during years ending in zero.

However, the decision on whether to conduct a Census next year  will still depend on the PSA Board which is chaired by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

“A national census of population and other related data shall be taken every decade beginning in 1980, in accordance with plans prepared by the National Census and Statistics Office, without prejudice to the undertaking of special censuses on agriculture, industry, commerce, housing and other sectors as may be approved by the Neda,” the law stated.

‘Not suspended’

Neda Undersecretary for Planning and Programming Rosemarie G. Edillon told the BusinessMirror that despite the reenacted budget, the government can still push through with the Census.

National Statistician Lisa Grace S. Bersales said the PSA, an attached agency of Neda, has also been undergoing workshops since January on strategic planning as well as procurement.

“Probably not [suspend the 2020 Census]. Big expense will be for next year anyway,” Edillon said in a text message to the BusinessMirror over the weekend.

The government’s statistics and civil registry efforts, most notably its biggest project of implementing the national ID, have continued. In a recent statement, Neda said the rollout of the national ID is on schedule despite a reenacted budget.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) Implementation Plan has already been approved and mass registration is already expected next year.

The PhilSys implementation plan detailed four phases of the project’s execution from procurement of technology to issuing actual IDs.

The Neda said phase 1 which will be done this year involves the procurement, testing of core technology infrastructure, organizational development of the PhilSys Registry Office (PRO), and launch of target registration.

Phase 2 which will be between January and June 2020, will entail the development and full operationalization of core technology infrastructure, development of a mass registration ecosystem, use case development, and registration of pre-registered persons.

Neda said phase 3, between July 2020 and June 2022, will undertake mass registration of 110,000,000 Filipinos and resident aliens, including overseas Filipino workers and phase 4, between July 2022 and December 2022, will involve issuing of PhilSys numbers, or PSNs, to newborns.

The PhilSys provides for a national identification system that seeks to unify all government IDs into one. It will provide identification to both citizens and resident aliens of the country to facilitate public and private transactions.

Despite the numerous IDs issued by the Philippine government, Pernia said 14 percent of Filipinos are still denied of government and financial services due to lack of proper identification documents.

“Having one national ID will strengthen financial inclusion by reducing the cost of transactions through easier authentication procedures. This way, the marginalized will have easier, faster access to public programs,” he said.

The PhilSys Act was signed into law last August 6. The Neda said the law is an “historic accomplishment of the Legislative Agenda under Chapter 5 of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.”