Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Philippines
The Philippines faces a multitude of challenges due to pervasive corruption in the government, which includes extrajudicial killings, targeted attacks on journalists and a lack of accountability among those in positions of power. This erosion of the rule of law in the Philippines has far-reaching consequences, particularly in exacerbating poverty throughout the country. As the rule of law weakens, officials and politicians manipulate the legal system for their personal benefit, leading to the misallocation of funds meant to benefit the poor.
Against this backdrop, there is a growing demand for justice and accountability in the country. Recent statistics on poverty have underscored the urgent need to address these issues and restore the rule of law in the Philippines. Estimates show that national poverty increased from 16.7% in 2018 to 18.1% in 2021.
By strengthening the rule of law, the Philippines can begin to restore its democracy and ensure that resources benefit all members of society. Rule of law is a crucial factor in determining a country’s economic and social well-being. The weakening of institutions can impede the development of a democratic society that promotes socialization and inclusivity. In turn, extractive institutions that do not adhere to the rule of law breed a culture of inequality and poverty.
The Current State of the Rule of Law
The Philippines is experiencing a decline in its Rule of Law Index score, as the World Justice Project reported. The score decreased by 2.9% from last year, ranking the Philippines 102nd out of 139 countries. Key metrics that make up the rule of law index, such as order and security, criminal justice and fundamental rights that citizens hold, have shown continued deterioration.
The Philippines is also increasingly corrupt, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The country ranks 116th out of 180 countries in 2022, up from 113th in 2020.
In 2019, reports indicated the loss of an estimated 700 billion pesos in the country due to corruption, leading to further deprivation among the poor. Instead of the funds going toward economic production or social welfare, aid and education, the money was lost to government corruption.
Duterte’s war on drugs is an example of the deterioration of the rule of law in the Philippines. Starting in 2016, Duterte’s violent anti-drug operations have been responsible for extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. Recent estimates suggest that more than 36,000 deaths have occurred in the name of the drug war, with blatant disregard for the due process of law.
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened corruption in the Philippines in 2020. Several high-ranking officials were accused of siphoning off millions of pesos from the government’s pandemic response budget, leading to outrage and calls for accountability. Although the government did hold some officials accountable for their actions, corruption remains a pervasive issue in the country.
Poverty in the Philippines
The Philippines possesses abundant human and natural resources and had been experiencing continuous economic growth since 1985. However, despite this progress, the country has yet to fully achieve its economic potential.
In 2021, according to the Asian Development Bank, roughly 19.9 million individuals lived below the poverty threshold of about 12,030 pesos monthly for a household of five and the deteriorating rule of law in the Philippines plays a significant role in perpetuating this issue. The weak justice system also creates an environment where people are less likely to trust the government and the legal system.
The weak rule of law leads to a lack of accountability for those who commit crimes and abuse their power. This results in impunity for the wealthy and powerful, who can get away with illegal activities and corruption while the poor continue to suffer. This was evident in the war on drugs as wealthy targets who could pay off vigilantes were less likely to be targeted in the first place.
The COVID-19 pandemic further worsened poverty in the Philippines, with Filipinos being even poorer today than in 2018. A staggering report by private polling firm Social Weather Station revealed that approximately 48% of the population considered themselves poor in 2022.
A Path Forward
New President Marcos Jr. has taken a strong stance against poverty, stating that he will strive to end his six-year term with a “single-digit” poverty rate. Although this goal could be difficult to achieve, it highlights the pressing nature of poverty within the country.
Despite the challenges, there are signs of progress. The Philippines government is making efforts to address the erosion of the rule of law, including investigating and monitoring human rights within the country, beginning with prosecuting corrupt politicians.
In 2019, the country passed a law to modernize and improve its court system. It also made efforts to increase transparency and accountability in government, such as establishing a Freedom of Information Order in 2016. This law gives citizens the right to access information that the government holds, with certain exceptions for national security and other sensitive matters. However, more and urgent action is necessary to protect the media, prevent extrajudicial killings and provide stronger social safety nets for the poor.
If the legal system can function effectively fairly, and impartially, it can provide the foundation needed for a government to flourish and encourage economic growth and poverty reduction. Conversely, the erosion of the rule of law can have devastating consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Therefore, it is essential that the Philippines continue to work toward strengthening its legal system and ensuring that it can function independently and impartially, for the benefit of all its citizens.
– Andrew Giganti