Philippine justice system

Philippine rule of law improves but still among weakest in Asia

Michelle Abad

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Philippine rule of law improves but still among weakest in Asia

CRIME SCENE. Police seal off a crime scene in Manila, Philippines.


The Philippines rises slightly in the World Justice Project Rule of Law index – a change in trend after the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, when the Philippines dropped by as much as 51 spots

MANILA, Philippines – After ranking poorly on rule of law under the Rodrigo Duterte administration, the Philippines saw some improvement in order and security, according to the 2022 World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index.

The WJP said in its media release that the Philippines’ overall rule of law score increased 1.4% in the 2022 index, with an overall score of 0.47 out of 1.

The Philippines is now ranked 97th out of 140 countries worldwide, rising five positions since 2021. But it remains one of the worst in the region – 13th out of 15th in East Asia and the Pacific, with the last two places held by Myanmar and Cambodia, where there was a coup and civil unrest, respectively, in recent years.

While the WJP found that adherence to the rule of law fell in 61% of countries in 2022, the Philippines emerged “among the minority of countries to see its Rule of Law Index score increase this year.”

It is a shift from the 2021 data of the Philippines dropping 51 spots in the index since Duterte assumed office in 2016.

In 2015, the Philippines ranked No. 51 but dropped to 70 when Duterte became president in 2016. By 2021, his last full year in office, the Philippines dropped even further to 102 in the WPJ index.

Chart from 2022 World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index

Worldwide, the index data showed that authoritarian trends from before the COVID-19 pandemic – such as “weaker checks on executive power and increased attacks on the media” – continued to weaken the rule of law.

However, the WJP noted that declines are less widespread and extreme than in 2021, when COVID-19 restrictions were higher and disrupted justice systems. Governments also exercised emergency powers that “curtailed civic freedoms and bypassed transparency mechanisms.”

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The WJP Rule of Law Index is a leading source for rule of law data. The 2022 index covers 140 countries and relies on surveys of more than 150,000 households and 3,600 legal practitioners and experts.

Slight increase in order and security, stagnant everywhere else

The WJP reported that the Philippines had an improvement in the factor measuring “order and security.” This measures “how well a society ensures the security of persons and property.”

Chart from 2022 World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index

The country’s order and security score rose by 0.04 to 0.66 out of 1 in 2022. This was relatively the most significant increase – the Philippines also improved in upholding fundamental rights (0.40) and in criminal justice (0.32) but the score for these two rose by only 0.01.

Meanwhile, the score for upholding civil justice (0.45) dropped by 0.01.

All other factors in the Philippines’ rule of law stayed stagnant from the previous year – constraints on government powers (0.48), absence of corruption (0.44), open government (0.50), and regulatory enforcement (0.48). This means that the country did not improve nor worsen in these aspects.

Going deeper into the different factors, this is where the Philippines scored best and worst, still with the highest score of 1:

  • Constraints on government powers
    • Best: Limits by legislature (0.55)
    • Worst: Sanctions for official misconduct (0.37)
  • Absence of corruption
    • Best: In the police/military (0.50)
    • Worst: In the legislature (0.40)
  • Open government
    • Best: Right to information (0.64)
    • Worst: Publicized laws and government data (0.42)
  • Fundamental rights
    • Best: Freedom of religion (0.59)
    • Worst: Right to life and security (0.18)
  • Order and security
    • Best: Absence of civil conflict (0.79)
    • Worst: Absence of violent redress (0.51)
  • Regulatory enforcement
    • Best: No improper influence (0.59)
    • Worst: No unreasonable delay (0.36)
  • Civil justice
    • Best: Impartial and effective alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (0.59)
    • Worst: No improper government influence (0.33)
  • Criminal justice
    • Best: No corruption (0.48)
    • Worst: Effective correctional system (0.18)

The Duterte government boasted of its controversial and deadly drug war, and how the administration was able to curb crime. In February 2022, then-interior secretary Eduardo Año, who oversees the Philippine National Police (PNP), said that the crime rate dropped by 73.76% from 2016 to 2021.

An analysis of the PNP crime statistics from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) showed that there was no significant increase or decrease in crime volume from January to August 2022.

The CMFR also noted that there were unexplained alterations in the PNP’s annual reports.

Facing the ICC

Months after Duterte stepped down from the presidency, advocates and rights groups continue to seek accountability for the thousands of lives lost in his campaign against illegal drugs.

Based on figures from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, there were 6,235 people who died in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to February 8, 2022.

But according to human rights groups, the drug war killings may reach from 12,000 to 30,000, including vigilante-style murders reported to be inspired by Duterte.

In September 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber opened a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines. It would look not only into the war on drugs under Duterte’s presidency, but also the killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad when Duterte was mayor and vice mayor of Davao City.

But the Philippine government, from Duterte’s time and now under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has insisted that the justice system is working in the Philippines.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in September 2022 that ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan was doing the court a “disservice” for challenging the Philippine system, after Khan insisted that the probe into alleged killings under Duterte’s leadership should continue.

Rising authoritarianism globally

The WJP said that globally, the most dramatic rule of law declines have been factors associated with “rising authoritarianism.”

Freedom of opinion and expression was down in 81% of countries. While this factor rose slightly in the Philippines from 0.49 in 2021 to 0.51 in 2022, dissenting voices continue to feel a chilling effect.

Activists and human rights defenders have been killed in the Philippines’ counter-insurgency operations. Journalists also remain persecuted and censored with the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, and continued legal attacks against Nobel laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

“At its heart, rule of law is about fairness – that is, accountability, equal rights, and justice for all – and a less fair world is bound to be a more volatile one,” said WJP executive director Elizabeth Andersen.

“Rule of law is also a key underpinning of democracy, which is faltering in many countries around the world,” Andersen added.

Access the full 2022 WJP Rule of Law Index here. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.