Orlando Oxales, Fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute and Lead Convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines
Effective rule of law is the foundation for development, peace and stability. In these times of global crisis threatening the health of the world’s population, how well our government enforces emergency measures to arrest the spread of the COVID-19 virus will determine the severity of disruption and casualty in the country.
According to 2020 data from the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index, an independent study surveying 130,000 households and 4,000 legal practitioners and experts in 128 countries, the Philippines’ average annual percentage deteriorated in the last five years, dropping to 91st rank out of 128th in the overall score for “rule of law.” In the region, the country ranks 13th out of 15.
The WJP Rule of Law Index measures how the rule of law is experienced and perceived by the general public worldwide across the eight primary factors: Constraint on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice.
The survey’s category on “constraints on government powers” suffered the biggest with a ranking of 75th scoring 0.50 from 0.61 in 2015 out of a perfect 1.0 score factor. The Philippines average annual percentage score in this category was among countries with the biggest declines since 2015 deteriorating to -4.9 percent.
WJP defines this category as, “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.” Quite relevant to the current observations of political analysts of the administration’s penchant to weaponize the rule of law to achieve political and non-political objectives.
The Philippines’ scores for “Absence of Corruption” from 2015 also declined, with 2020 down to 0.46 from 0.49 in 2015. Regionally, this pegs the country in the lower half at 11th out of 15 and a global rank of 63rd out of 128. The sub-factor category score on whether “government officials in the executive branch do not use public office for private gain” are in the lower middle levels at 0.48, which is below the regional averages of 0.60. Scores for police and military fared better at 0.60 while the legislative and judicial branches were lowest at 0.41 and 0.40 respectively.
The survey also measured “Regulatory Enforcement” defined as “the extent to which regulations are fairly and effectively implemented and enforced. Regulations, both legal and administrative, structure behaviors within and outside of the government.” Score in this category fell 3 points to 0.48 compared to 0.51 scores in 2017 and 2018. Like the other categories, the Philippines in the lower middle range ranked at 10th out of 15 in the region.
These scores rather approximate the current convolution of political, regulatory, and governance problems. Global perception directly affects our competitiveness for much-needed foreign investments that will create long term and expanding economic opportunities for our people.
As defined by the WJP, the rule of law is a durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment that delivers the universal principles of accountability, just laws, open government, and the accessible and impartial resolution of disputes.
“Effective rule of law reduces corruption, combats poverty and disease, and protects people from injustices large and small. It is the foundation for communities of justice, opportunity, and peace—underpinning development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights.”
However, the state sponsored quo warranto case thrown against ABS-CBN and the intentional congressional impasse on the pending bills to renew the network’s franchise preceded by a series of attacks against Manila Water and Maynilad, two of the most successful and highly regulated listed enterprises wherein the livelihood of tens of thousands of families are at stake, have sent alarming signals that have damaged the country’s credibility.
Add to this, the President’s abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and threat to cut the country’s alliance with our most powerful and only military ally defies logic. No less than the Philippine Senate has challenged this in the Supreme court and I sincerely hope their position will prevail.
The debatable allegations, and vindictive motivations punctuated by ugly, unstatesmanlike tirades are unmistakable indicators of an unstable regulatory environment that will scare away the quality investor that our economy needs.
Now that we are scrambling to arrest the spread of a global pandemic, we have no choice but to cope with the disruptive effects of this pestilence. Our lives will have to adapt to the travel bans, social distancing and other measures that the authorities will be implementing. Please don’t make things worse by hoarding and spreading false information. Be practical, stay calm, practice good hygiene, and pray.
This article was originally published in Manila Standard.