"This dire decline in our rule of law standing in the world requires leaders that can deliver true reform."
When the President’s men argued earlier this year that the International Criminal Court had no jurisdiction to investigate human rights abuses in the Philippines because we have a functioning system of justice, we could not help wincing at that overly generous assessment.
While it is true that we have the trappings of a working judicial system, we have all seen how lawyers, prosecutors and judges have been co-opted and corrupted by the powerful. We have seen how the justice system moved at a glacial pace to bring partial justice in a grisly double murder case committed 35 years ago. We have seen how the scions of powerful families get away with murder, and we have watched in disbelief as people in power came to the defense of cronies and associates who stole public money.
All this has come to roost, with the release last week of a report on the 2021 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, which showed that the Philippines was among three countries with the weakest rule of law in East Asia and the Pacific, keeping company with the likes of Myanmar and Cambodia.
Globally, the Philippines fell three positions and placed 102nd out of 139 countries with an overall score of 0.46, down from 0.47 in 2020. The score is based on a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 indicates strongest adherence to the rule of law.
The country’s overall score in the index has also steadily declined from 0.53 in 2015, 0.51 in 2016, and 0.47 from 2017 to 2020.
In 2015, before President Duterte came to power, the country’s rule of law index was at .53, placing it 51st out of 102 countries. Over the years encompassing the Duterte administration, the index has steadily declined to 0.51 in 2016, and 0.47 from 2017 to 2020, while the country’s global ranking has plunged 51 places.
A closer look at the factors behind the index is telling because the Philippines did poorly on all but one measure.
In 2020, the country did poorly on constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement and civil justice, and did only marginally better in criminal justice.
Three of these factors bear further examination.
Factor 1, constraints on government powers measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law. It comprises the means, both constitutional and institutional, by which the powers of the government and its officials and agents are limited and held accountable under the law. It also includes non-governmental checks on the government’s power, such as a free and independent press.
Factor 2, absence of corruption, measures the absence of corruption in government. The factor considers three forms of corruption: Bribery, improper influence by public or private interests, and misappropriation of public funds or other resources. These three forms of corruption are examined with respect to government officers in the executive branch, the judiciary, the military, police, and the legislature.
Factor 5, order and security, measures how well a society ensures the security of persons and property. It is no surprise that the Duterte administration did poorly on Factor 4, fundamental rights, but order and security was the one area it should have done well, given the President’s many promises to rid us of crime.
Not all of this can be laid solely at the doorstep of the President, but leadership matters. Clearly, this dire decline in our rule of law standing in the world requires leaders that can deliver true reform, and not those who merely promise it, or worse, those who vow to give us more of the same because we’ve never had it so good.