The state of Philippine freedom

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

We mark Araw ng Kagitingan on this day to remember the sacrifice and death of Filipinos and Americans in the hands of Japanese forces during World War II. Their struggle symbolizes humankind’s continuing struggle for freedom.

Today this spirit of freedom is celebrated and monitored by many organizations worldwide. In the Philippine context, whenever international organizations or formations release studies on or analyses of the state of freedom at the global, regional, and national levels, there are two typical responses: They are “outsiders” and do not have the right to meddle in domestic affairs, or they are welcome as they provide policy insights for the government.

The first is a cynical stance and plunges us into passivity and a defensive attitude. The second — the constructive “critical” perspective — provides a variety of options that benefit all policymakers, executive officials, and civil society actors. In particular, it is the government that has the vantage point to make the necessary adjustments and changes in its ways of doing things.

The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, for instance, studies the presence of the rule of law. The index covers 113 countries via eight indicators with 44 subfactors. The indicators include constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice (World Justice Project, 2018).

In 2017-2018, the Philippines’ overall score is 0.47, with a regional rank (for East Asia and the Pacific) of 13th among 15 countries. Globally, the Philippines ranked 88th among 113 countries—an 18-spot drop from 70th in 2016. Out of the eight indicators, the Philippines saw significant drops in: constraints on government powers, fundamental rights, order and security, and criminal justice.

For corruption, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 focused on the levels of perception on corruption among experts and businesspeople. The Philippines’ rank dropped from 95th among 168 countries in 2015, 101st among 176 countries in 2016, to 111th among 180 countries in 2017. The Philippines scored 34 points in 2017 and 35 in 2016 and 2015 (Transparency International, 2018).

With regard to political rights and civil liberties, the Freedom House looks into the condition of rights and liberties worldwide. Its Freedom in the World annual report in 2018 gave the Philippines an aggregate score of 62 over 100, one point less than last year’s score of 63. Last year’s marks were mainly due to the extrajudicial killings attributed to President Duterte’s war on drugs and assassinations of and threats against civil society activists (Freedom House, 2018).

Also, by Freedom House, the Freedom of the Press 2017 report measures worldwide media independence by assessing the degree of print, broadcast, and digital media freedom in 199 countries and territories. The Philippines had a total score of 44 out of 100, with zero as the most free and 100 as the least free, and was classified as a “partly free” country (Freedom House, 2017).

The Freedom of the Net report considers different factors to internet freedom such as obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. The Philippines was classified as “free” in 2017, with an overall score of 28 over 100 (where zero is the most free and 100 as the least free). The Philippines’ score dropped two points from 26 in 2016 to 28 in 2017. The study presented that the country’s internet freedom declined in 2017, despite the improvement of internet access.

From these measures of freedom, three lessons need to be emphasized. First, policy and program continuity is imperative. For instance, the law on freedom of information needs to be implemented at all levels. Second, the presence of procedure is most important. Impunity leaves a big dark space in dispensing justice to all concerned. Third, institutional reform is critical. Corruption breeds not only in the individual practices but in the system as a whole.

Thus, making the government more functional is synonymous to boosting people’s experience of freedom.

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