Philippine justice system

[ANALYSIS] What they don’t tell you about the rule of law and corruption in PH

Winnie Monsod

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[ANALYSIS] What they don’t tell you about the rule of law and corruption in PH
The Duterte administration really brought down the Philippines' scores and rankings on Rule of Law as well as on corruption

(Fourth in a series)

We are republishing this from with permission from the author

So far, I have pointed out seven inconvenient truths (all evidence-based) about the Philippine socio-economic situation, on the premise that we all have to know what we are up against so we can do something about it, rather than be fed by glowing reports that assure us that all is well. These inconvenient truths are:

Among the ASEAN-5, the Philippines has…

#1 – the lowest GDP per capita: a Filipino has the least income among the ASEAN-5

#2 – the most unequal distribution of income

#3 – the highest poverty headcount ratio

#4 – the highest learning poverty rate of 90.9%, meaning among 10-year olds, 9 out of 10 cannot understand what they are reading

#5 – the lowest Human Capital Index score of 0.52: A child born today will have 52% of the expected productivity she would have had if she had complete education and full health

#6 – in some international large-scale assessments, the lowest performance among all countries assessed. 

#7 – the highest infant mortality, the highest child mortality, the second-to-the lowest life expectancy. 

The next (and last) two inconvenient truths we must contend with are actually foundational, i.e., they are a major reason why the previous seven came to be in the first place.  

They have to do with good governance, which “is considered key to achieving sustainable development and human well-being. After all, sustainable development requires that those in power have respect for human rights and work towards eradicating poverty, addressing hunger, securing good health care and high quality education for their citizens, guaranteeing gender equality, reducing inequality, and so on.”

Let us proceed.

Inconvenient Truth #8

The eighth inconvenient truth concerns the rule of law in the Philippines. Rule of Law is “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency (United Nations)”.  

A very important distinction is made (Fukuyama) between “rule of law” and “rule by law”. “Rule by law” refers to the executive’s (aka the President’s) use of law and bureaucracy as an instrument of power, while “Rule of Law” is when the executive itself is constrained by the same laws that apply to everyone else.  

Reader, I am afraid that we are under the rule by law, masquerading as the rule of law.  

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2022 is the basis of Inconvenient Truth #8: The Philippines has the lowest score, and the lowest rank, among the ASEAN-5 as far as the Rule of Law is concerned. Our score is 0.47 (out of a possible 1.00), compared to Malaysia’s 0.57, Indonesia’s 0.53, Thailand’s 0.50, and Vietnam’s (0.49). These scores place the Philippines as ranking 97th out of 140 countries, compared to Malaysia’s 55th, Indonesia’s 64th, Thailand’s 80th, and Vietnam’s 84th .

What is so galling is that eight years ago, in 2015, the Philippines had a score (0.53) higher than everyone else, except Malaysia (0.57). As you can see, Reader, the Duterte administration really brought down the Philippines’ Rule of Law score and ranking – from 0.53 to 0.47, and from 51 out of 102 to 97th out of 140. One would have hoped that under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., we would see those scores and ranks going up, but judging from what is happening in the Leila de Lima case and what happened in the Juanito Remulla case, that gleam of hope is fading. In the Philippines, the rule by law still reigns supreme.

Inconvenient Truth #9

Finally, we come face to face with the matter of corruption (from the Latin words “corruptio” or destroy, and “corrumpere” or destruction).  The shortest of the many definitions of corruption are the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) “the abuse of a public or private office for personal gain” and Transparency International’s (TI) “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.  Just as good governance is tightly linked with the rule of law, so is it tightly linked with the fight against corruption.  

Well, how does the Philippines fare, vis-a-vis the ASEAN-5, corruption-wise?  Using TI’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2022 as the metric, here is Inconvenient Truth # 9: The Philippines has the lowest score (higher is better) and the lowest rank among the ASEAN-5, i.e. it is perceived to be the most corrupt. Where Malaysia’s score is 47 out of a possible 100, giving it the rank of 61st out of 180 countries, Vietnam’s is 42 (77th), Thailand’s is 36 (101st), Indonesia’s is 34 (110th), and the Philippines’ is 33 (116th).

And just as what happened with the Rule of Law Index, just eight years ago, Philippines was at par with Thailand with a score of 38, and had a higher score than either Indonesia (34) or Vietnam (31). What happened in the interim? The Duterte Administration, that’s what.  

But I want you to focus on Vietnam’s performance: It scored 31 in 2014, ranking 149th out of 174 countries. In 2022, it scored 42, rising in rank to 77th out of 180, in the top half of the countries monitored. An increase in score of 11 points, and an increase of 72 in rank, all within eight years. That is a phenomenal performance. But not as good as the Philippines’ performance between 2010 and 2014, under the administration of the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III! In that 4-year period, the Philippines improved its score (became less corrupt) by 14 points (24 to 38) and also its ranking (from 134th out of 178 countries to 85th out of 174 countries – the only time we ranked in the top half of the countries.  

How did the administration of President Noynoy Aquino accomplish that? If you will remember, Reader, we had the Three Furies then: Leila de Lima as Secretary of Justice, Conchita Carpio Morales as Ombudsman, and Grace Pulido Tan as Commission on Audit chair. We also had the likes of Rogelio “Babes” Singson in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).  All fearless and incorruptible. That’s how.  

I hope we can do it again, because, to quote the International Monetary Fund, “promoting good governance in all its aspects, including by ensuring the rule of law, improving the efficiency and accountability of the public sector and tackling corruption, [are] essential elements of a framework within which economies can prosper.”

What are we waiting for? –

Solita “Winnie” Monsod was the first National Economic and Development Authority secretary appointed after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. She is a professor emerita at the UP School of Economics where she taught starting 1983. She finished her degree in economics in UP and obtained her masters in economics at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a board director of Rappler Inc.

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