Philippines | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2007

2007 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


At first glance, the Philippines might be perceived as a thriving democracy. Since its transition from authoritarian rule in 1986, general elections have been held in 1992, 1998, and 2004. Midterm elections—for positions ranging from the local level to the national Senate and House of Representatives—have been held on schedule in intervening years. The May 2004 elections involved a wide array of political parties and brought forth impressive levels of voter turnout. Civic involvement was extensive, as hundreds of thousands of volunteers went to polling stations to try to safeguard the electoral process. Midterm elections in May 2007 continued these patterns and resulted in substantial gains for the opposition in the Senate.

On the whole, Philippine democracy has combined popular exuberance with the major flaws of elite dominance and institutional weakness. The political structures implanted and nurtured under U.S. colonial rule in the early 20th century were characterized by the exclusion of the masses, patronage-infested political parties, a spoils system that undermined bureaucratic coherence, and (under the 1935 constitution) opportunities for overbearing executive authority. While suffrage expanded after independence in 1946, the country’s “cacique democracy” fell far short of the democratic ideal. In essence, there was rotation of power within the elite without effective participation by those at the bottom of highly inequitable socioeconomic structures.[1] Authoritarian enclaves could be found in many locales throughout the archipelago.

In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos concentrated power in his own hands by declaring martial law. He proclaimed that he would replace the “old oligarchy” with his “New Society” and lay down stronger foundations for democratic renewal, but it soon became clear that his ultimate goal was the creation of a new oligarchy centered on his own family. By the time he was removed from office via the “People Power” uprising of 1986, the economy was a shambles. Incoming President Corazon Aquino (1986–1992) focused on restoring the structures of pre–martial law elite democracy, and the old clans stepped forward to reclaim their places in Congress. Aquino’s successor, former general Fidel Ramos (1992–1998), achieved substantial success in promoting important economic reforms through skillful manipulation of old-style patronage politics. Elements of a vibrant civil society, meanwhile, sought to keep up the pressure for much-needed social reforms.

When former movie star Joseph Estrada was elected to the presidency by a landslide in 1998, he promised material improvements for the masses but instead devoted his presidency to taking care of himself, his (multiple) families, and his cronies. Anger over allegations of corruption, abuse of power, and involvement with gambling syndicates led to impeachment proceedings. In January 2001, when the trial became stalled in the Senate, huge crowds took to the streets in protest. After the military withdrew support from his administration, Estrada left the palace and Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the presidency with the imprimatur of the Supreme Court. She served out the remainder of Estrada’s term and was then elected to her own six-year term in 2004.

Analysis of recent trends suggests that Asia’s oldest democracy has become increasingly dysfunctional in several important ways. First, deepening concerns about the competence and integrity of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) have further undermined public confidence in its capacity to adjudicate election results with accuracy and fairness. While the Philippines has often exhibited deficiencies in electoral administration, these problems were manifested most dramatically in the May 2004 elections. More than a year later, in the wake of allegations that the president herself had played a role in fixing the vote count, the Arroyo government nearly collapsed. Second, the Philippines has dozens of political parties but no party system per se. Because most parties are loosely organized vehicles with little programmatic coherence, voters lack substantive choice when they cast their ballots. Politicians frequently move from one party or party alliance to another, and few parties have any serious institutional apparatus (it is notable that presidents give little attention to the development of their own ruling parties). Third, the influence of money and coercion skews electoral outcomes in favor of those who can successfully buy votes and/or coerce voters. Fourth, there is strong evidence of military involvement in the killings of hundreds of leftists, activists, and church personnel. In the wake of a recent fact-finding mission, a United Nations Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the impact of these killings on the democratic process: “It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country.”[2] Fifth, press freedom is undermined by killings of journalists and a poor record of prosecuting those responsible. A more recent trend involves increasing numbers of libel suits against journalists by people close to the current administration. In light of these developments, many freedom indicators for the Philippines have declined since 2005.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

The Republic of the Philippines has a presidential system and a bicameral legislature. Under the current constitution, adopted in 1987, the president and vice president are elected by popular vote for single six-year terms. The 24 members of the upper house, the Senate, are elected from a single, nationwide district.

In the 2004 elections, President Arroyo received 40 percent of the popular vote, and in the final vote count she exceeded the tally of her closest contender by more than 1 million votes. Arroyo proved to be an indefatigable campaigner, highly adept at deploying the many advantages of incumbency and cutting deals with local politicians and religious groups that could deliver the votes of their constituencies. In the wake of the elections, Arroyo’s ruling party alliance controlled the Senate and the House. However, given the weakness of party loyalties and party discipline ongoing control and influence over legislators must regularly be renewed through the dispersal of patronage and public resources.

In line with historical patterns of high voter turnout, nearly 75 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the May 2004 elections.[3] For the first time, rights of suffrage were given to the millions of overseas Filipino workers who had previously been excluded from the electoral process. Unfortunately, a mere 233,000 chose to exercise their right to vote.[4]

The 2004 elections revealed many flaws in the system of electoral administration. As many as 2 million voters appeared at polling places to find that their names were not on official COMELEC lists.[5] In the absence of clear patterns of favoritism, this disenfranchisement seems to have been the result of administrative incompetence. Most damaging to COMELEC credibility was the release, in mid-2005, of audio tapes thought to contain conversations between the president and a notorious COMELEC official. In these conversations, a distinctive female voice was apparently seeking assistance in ensuring a million-vote margin in the presidential race.[6] The scandal that the tapes evoked not only threatened the survival of the Arroyo administration but also severely undermined the legitimacy of the electoral process.

The Philippine ballot is probably one of the most archaic in the world, as attempts at modernization have bogged down amid allegations of corruption. Voters are required to fill in, by hand, the names of all candidates for whom they are voting. The vote tally is then conducted manually; with 35 million ballots, each containing votes for 25 to 30 positions, election officials face the gargantuan task of counting about a billion preferences in all. This laborious process has proven to be highly susceptible to fraud: as official election tallies begin their long migration from local precincts to Manila, politicians can use a variety of tactics to supplement retail vote purchases with wholesale manipulation of the vote count. Allegations of fraud were prevalent throughout the tallying period in May and June 2004, but the results were given some validity by a leading vote-monitoring group. The 2005 vote-fixing allegations against the president tainted both the 2004 elections and those who had previously chosen to give them a stamp of approval.[7]

In addition, both COMELEC and the national police failed in their obligation to ensure the security of candidates and voters during the election period. According to police statistics, there were 148 killings in election-related violence in 2004, more than double the total from the last general elections in 1998. Moreover, the insurgent New People’s Army (NPA) was reportedly extorting permit-to-campaign fees in the areas that it controlled, and is alleged to have killed rivals on the left. While most election-related violence occurred in provincial towns or rural areas and may not have affected the results elsewhere, voters in areas where violence or the threat of violence existed were not free to make informed political choices and were thus effectively disenfranchised.[8]

[UPDATE: While the May 2007 elections took place after the period examined in this report, the results deserve brief summary. Voter turnout declined to an estimated 66 percent of registered voters, lower than in the 2004 general elections. One election monitoring group, Bantay Eleksyon, speculates that this may be due to “stricter monitoring by citizen groups [preventing] the padding of votes in many places.”[9] The vote count was conducted at a customarily slow pace, with major contention over the 12th place finisher in the senatorial races (the winner was not declared until July). The Philippine national police reported 121 election-related killings, less than the 148 deaths in the 2004 general elections but marginally more than the 111 people killed in the last midterm elections in 2001. A broad alliance of disparate opposition forces won the majority of seats in the Senate, but the ruling party alliance enjoys overwhelming control of the House. Given the weakness of party alliances, this balance may shift. In the Senate, the palace will likely be able to woo some of the opposition senators to its side. In the House, although the president and Speaker Jose de Venecia have enjoyed a long-standing alliance, apparent tensions in their relationship merit close observation.[10]

Aside from problems of administration, the Philippine electoral system in its very design encourages politics based on personalities and patronage rather than platforms and parties. Candidates from well-known families, along with newscasters and movie stars, are favored by the antiquated, non-preprinted ballot. There is no option to vote according to a party ticket. Even the posts of president and vice president are elected separately, often leading to a situation in which the two top national officials claim allegiance to rival political parties or factions. Bloc voting for the Senate encourages rivalries within parties; since all candidates are competing within one nationwide district each senatorial candidate is required to forge his or her own alliances with local political clans who can deliver votes from across the archipelago. One might expect the election of one-fifth of the House through proportional representation (PR) to strengthen parties somewhat, but this outcome is undermined by the highly unconventional nature of Philippine PR. While a conventional PR system requires a minimum level of electoral success in order to gain seats, Philippine PR imposes a maximum limit of three seats per party regardless of the number of votes received.[11]

A final concern relates to inequities in the financing of political parties and candidates. Although all parties and candidates have equal campaigning rights, the prohibitive cost of campaigns privileges wealthy candidates. The 1985 omnibus election code bars campaign contributions from specific individuals and entities, including financial institutions, public utility operators, government contractors, government civilian and military personnel, and foreigners and foreign corporations. There are no limits, however, on the size of contributions from individuals or entities not covered by the prohibition. Moreover, the code specifies limits on expenditures for election purposes, but enforcement of such limits is doubtful. As a result, those with money exert a disproportionate influence on election results. This includes not only traditional political-economic elites but also those who have close ties to gambling syndicates, drug lords, and other members of the underworld.[12] If election administrators cannot with any degree of accuracy maintain voter lists or count vote results, it is unrealistic to suppose that they would be able to enforce the provisions of a campaign finance law—no matter how well intentioned the writing of such legislation might be.

Democratic accountability is reinforced by the countervailing power of the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) and two houses of the legislature (the House and the Senate). Recent impeachment attempts against Arroyo (in 2005 and 2006) have failed, as the administration has been able to count on the support of House Speaker Jose de Venecia and the legislators whose loyalty he rewards. However, late in 2006, efforts by the presidential palace and the speaker to push through major constitutional changes were blocked by the Supreme Court. A palace-backed “people’s initiative” had gathered signatures from throughout the country in support of a plebiscite on shifting the country from a bicameral presidential system to a unicameral parliamentary system. The high court ruled that the campaign did not fulfill constitutional requirements.[13] In subsequent weeks, senators offered further opposition to reforms designed to abolish their chamber. These episodes indicate the capacity of separate branches of government to oppose abuses of power and to force a more deliberative approach on such important issues as constitutional reform.

At the same time, corruption and inefficiency nurtured by a well-entrenched spoils system frequently undermine the bureaucracy’s capacity to implement laws that have been passed by the legislature and signed by the president. Corruption can be found at all levels of government, and graft accusations are a staple of opposition challenges to incumbents. Every administration promises measures to clean up government, and in some cases they can claim certain degrees of success in targeted areas. Structural obstacles, however, generally frustrate sustained improvement. The electoral process privileges the dispensing of patronage over the delivery of good governance, thus limiting the ability of voters to demand policy-based accountability from elected officials.[14] The high expense of elections encourages corrupt behavior on the part of politicians, and there is little incentive for a national administration to enforce corruption laws at the local level except against opposition figures. Poorly paid bureaucrats have their own individual incentives for corrupt behavior, and are often able to engage in corrupt acts with impunity.

Institutional problems notwithstanding, the democratic impulse within Philippine society is deep and enduring. Civil society organizations are strong and have in the past nurtured free-election movements intent not only on combating vote fraud but also on countering the tendency of patronage politics to corrupt democracy and undermine good governance. In 1986, these organizations came together in an ad hoc coalition that was able to topple the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Ferdinand Marcos. The pattern was repeated against Joseph Estrada in 2001.

As part of the post-Marcos antiauthoritarian impulse, Philippine nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been actively and formally incorporated into decision-making processes. A prime example is the 1991 Local Government Code, which mandates the representation of NGOs on local councils. While this incorporation has often been resisted by local politicians, the provisions of the law do provide new opportunities for organized societal groups to influence the decisions of development councils, school boards, and bidding committees. The state does not subject NGOs and other civic organizations to onerous registration requirements, nor does it harass donors and funders of these organizations.

A final historical strength of Philippine democracy is its boisterous media scene, which plays a major role in publicizing allegations of corruption. Since the fall of the Marcos regime in 1986, the media have been free from direct state censorship. Philippine media enjoy a very substantial degree of freedom, whether one is examining traditional print and broadcast media, works of cultural expression, or access to the internet. The bulk of the media is under private ownership, and the government does not impose overly burdensome registration requirements.[15] Despite these broad freedoms, recent increases in the harassment of journalists are integrally related to broader concerns about the declining condition of Philippine democracy.

The widespread killing of journalists led Reporters Without Borders to declare that “after Iraq, the Philippines is the most dangerous country for journalists.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 32 reporters have been killed for their reporting in the 15 years between 1991 and 2006. Fewer than 10 percent of the cases have led to convictions. A recent government commission on media and activist killings points the finger at “local politicians, warlords, or big business interests” driven by a range of mainly local motives.

A newer mode of media harassment comes from those close to the national leadership. In 2006, the president’s husband, “First Gentleman” Jose Miguel Arroyo, filed libel suits against 43 journalists. The lawsuits seek a total of $1.4 million in damages for stories accusing him of involvement in vote rigging and corrupt actions; if convicted, the journalists could also face imprisonment for six months to six years. In response, 600 journalists and 30 supporting organizations have issued a petition urging the decriminalization of libel. A government attempt to charge other journalists with sedition in the wake of a February 2006 coup attempt was blocked by the Supreme Court.[16] It is not clear to what extent these legal charges will intimidate or embolden the media, particularly given that libel and sedition laws have not in the past been an effective means of curbing media criticism of government officials. Combined with the killings, however, the legal charges must be viewed as a disturbing attack on one of the major bulwarks of Philippine democracy.

Civil Liberties: 

While the 1987 constitution enshrines a range of civil liberties, the government has an inconsistent record of putting these guarantees into practice. Those who have the means to hire lawyers fare much better than those who do not, and those who attract the gaze of the national media can generally defend their constitutional rights more effectively than those in distant provinces. Although in some cases the government has taken additional legal steps to ensure that citizens enjoy their rights, in other cases fundamental constitutional rights have been circumvented—particularly in the fight against those labeled insurgents or terrorists. Along with central policy directives, many problems arise from the national government’s seeming lack of control over its own security forces.

An alarming development in recent years has been the killing of hundreds of leftists, activists, and church personnel. The murders are most common in areas where the government battles the Communist Party of the Philippines, whose NPA is engaged in a nearly three-decade-long armed struggle against the government. Although the number of people killed since the Arroyo administration took power in 2001 is in dispute (136 according to the national police and 836 according to one local human rights group), Amnesty International (AI) reported a substantial increase in 2005 and 2006. In June 2006, the government declared “all-out war” against Communist rebels. The killings have been given increasing national and international attention since 2006, through an August 2006 report by AI, a February 2007 report by a special government commission, March 2007 hearings in the U.S. Senate, a June 2007 Human Rights Watch report, and a report by a UN Special Rapporteur scheduled for release in mid-2007. President Arroyo’s own commission concludes that “some elements in the military were behind the killing of activists” and that ranking armed forces personnel have failed in their duty to investigate, punish, and prevent the killings.[17] In general, prosecution of the killings is hampered both by a long-standing culture of impunity for human rights abuses and continuing fears among potential witnesses of the danger of reprisals for cooperating with the police. According to Human Rights Watch, not a single perpetrator has been successfully prosecuted.[18]

In areas where the insurgency is strong, the government is likewise unable to prevent killings of civilians by the left. As the military is quick to emphasize, the NPA has a history of killing civilian opponents and in the 1980s undertook gruesome purges of its own members.[19] In some cases, it is alleged, the NPA plays the role of hired gun in disputes among rival elite politicians. Security forces are also deficient in securing the citizenry against such crimes as homicide, assault, theft, and rape; even worse are charges that some elements of the security forces have ties to criminal syndicates.[20]

In February 2006, rebellious military officers botched an attempt to combine a popular uprising with a coup d’etat. In response, the Arroyo government declared a state of emergency “in a hurriedly drafted proclamation that sounded eerily like the one Marcos signed when he declared martial law in 1972.” Many feared the loss of democratic rights, but the Arroyo government encountered considerable opposition to its measures and the Supreme Court later ruled that the official acts promulgated under emergency rule were illegal. Although the main perpetrators were within the military, the primary targets of government repression were on the left, including Congress members. A recent report by the American Bar Association (ABA) voices concern over the “misuse” of rebellion and sedition charges and the impact that this has on the country’s civil liberties.[21]

A new antiterrorism bill, enacted in March 2007 and effective in July, gives the government formal authority to detain suspects for three days without charges. In addition, it provides new authority to conduct surveillance, wiretap, and seize assets. Critics, including the Catholic bishops conference and UN human rights experts, fear that a broad definition of “terrorism” invites abuse of civil liberties.[22]

The constitution guarantees protection against torture and deprivation of liberty without due process. Indeed, as stipulated in the constitution, a Commission on Human Rights was created in 1987 with the power to investigate, on its own or after receiving complaints, violations of these guarantees as well as other civil and political rights. Yet arbitrary arrests, long-term detention without trial, and even torture persist, primarily in cases of suspected insurgents and their sympathizers. In a 2003 report, AI noted a “serious discrepancy” between laws on the books prohibiting torture and its use by law enforcement officials. Within a larger context of “intimidation and fear of reprisals,” the burden of proof is on the victims—thus making it extremely rare for acts of torture to be prosecuted.[23] Government and nongovernmental human rights groups are seeking to reverse patterns of impunity through the passage of a law that criminalizes acts of torture.[24]

In April 2006, President Arroyo commuted the death sentences of 1,230 prisoners in what is probably “the world’s largest ever mass commutation.” Two months later, the death penalty was abolished by law.[25] The next humanitarian challenge will be to improve conditions for Philippine prisoners, who are commonly housed in deplorable, unsanitary facilities designed for much smaller populations. System-wide, facilities that measure 56,000 square meters house more than 60,000 prisoners. Basic necessities, including toilets and sleeping space, are in short supply. The superintendent of prisons laments the lack of funds for building new facilities and predicts a 13 percent annual increase in the prison population over the next eight years.[26] Children are sometimes detained in adult facilities and, like women, face risks of physical and sexual abuse.[27]

Citizens whose rights are violated by the state can legally petition for redress through the judicial system. But the judicial system, while in the process of reform, is still biased against those of little means (see Rule of Law). The poor majority often lack the education and financial resources necessary to navigate the courts.

The government can point to some progress in achieving the goal of gender equity, as societal groups encourage it to fulfill a clearly stated mandate in the 1987 constitution (Article II, Section 14). Often in response to lobbying by women’s groups, the government has enacted many laws promoting women’s rights. At the pinnacle of power, women often play a very visible role. Two out of the four post-Marcos presidents have been women, although in both cases their political careers followed those of prominent politician relatives—for Corazon Aquino, her husband, and for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her father. While President Arroyo’s cabinet was overwhelmingly male as of mid-2007, a substantial proportion of cabinet members were women in earlier years of the administration.[28] The Senate and the House are 17 percent and 16 percent women, respectively.[29] More than half of government employees are female, but they hold only about 35 percent of top-level positions in the bureaucracy.[30] One-third of the judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals are women, as are 23 percent of judges in trial courts at all levels.[31] One half of students in law school are female, and women play a very prominent role in the professions more generally.[32]

Further down the socioeconomic ladder, Filipino women face much more substantial obstacles, and achievements on the ground often fall short of promises in the law. Female factory workers often labor in harsh conditions without benefit of union protections. Women who seek work abroad in the entertainment industry sometimes find themselves victimized by criminal syndicates. Sex workers throughout the country are exploited by brothel owners, pimps, customers, and police officers.[33] Legal measures have been adopted to address major concerns of women, including a 2003 act addressing trafficking of women and children and a 2004 law criminalizing domestic violence against women and children.[34] Their success has yet to be ascertained. In the view of one UN agency, however, “progressive laws are not always enforced, and despite the existence of equality under the law, women still suffer discrimination in many areas.”[35]

The 1987 constitution calls for the state to give priority to the needs of “the underprivileged, sick, disabled, women, and children” (Article XIII, Section 11). Because most disabled people live in poverty,[36] efforts to improve their condition are often part of larger programs of poverty alleviation. The National Anti-Poverty Commission, established in 1998, seeks to encourage cooperation among national government agencies, local government leagues, and representatives from 14 “basic sectors” of society, including people with disabilities. While some progress has been made in integrating the disabled into mainstream society, in large part due to the efforts of NGOs, they continue to face problems of access to basic social services, housing, education, and employment.[37]

The government has a relatively strong record with respect to freedom of conscience and belief. The vast majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholic (85 percent); Protestants make up 9 percent, and Muslims 5 percent. While Catholics predominate in government, the state does not interfere in the appointment of religious leaders or the internal activities of other peaceful faith-related organizations, nor does it place restrictions on religious observance, religious ceremony, or religious education. Non-Catholic Christians, as well as Catholics out of favor with elements of the church leadership, are able to succeed in the political arena. President Ramos (1992–98) was a Protestant, and President Estrada (1998–2001) received a strong electoral mandate despite the opposition of key members of the Catholic hierarchy. Muslim politicians, however, have had little success at winning national office. Since 1987, only two Muslims have won seats in the Senate, partly due to the nationwide electoral district. Representation of Muslims in presidential cabinets, moreover, is minimal at best.

While Filipino Muslims are free to practice their religion, the post–World War II flood of Christian settlers to traditionally Muslim areas in Mindanao led to increasing tensions over land ownership and control of political and economic resources. Muslim elites’ historical accommodation with Manila came under fire from those seeking to challenge structures of discrimination against Muslims and protect communities against Christian paramilitary groups. The current armed conflict between the government and Muslim groups can be traced to the 1972 declaration of martial law, which closed off opportunities for peaceful conflict resolution. In an effort to address Muslim concerns, the architects of the 1987 constitution provided for the creation of an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But the establishment of ARMM did not end the insurgency, as many in the region objected both to its boundaries and to Manila’s efforts to interfere in the determination of its leadership.

Since a historic 1996 accord between Manila and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the major secessionist movement in Mindanao has been the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF split from the MNLF in 1978 and is estimated to have 12,000 fighters.[38] Although founded with a commitment to form an independent Islamic state, the MILF has in fact demonstrated significant capacity for negotiation and compromise. Negotiations with Manila have been and continue to be complicated by government vacillation between conciliation and aggression, alleged links between the MILF and transnational extremist organizations such as Jemaah Islamiah (JI), and the MILF’s lack of operational control over many of its ground units.[39] Meanwhile, militarization of the area due to the conflict has created many opportunities for violations of the rights of civilians, both Muslim and Christian. The International Crisis Group declares the Philippines to be “the region’s weakest state—effectively a failed state in parts of the south where JI fugitives and others find sanctuary.”[40]

In stark contrast to the MILF, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is estimated to have a mere 200 fighters. It has previously expressed ideological goals, had tenuous links with al-Qaeda, and is widely thought to have associations with JI. ASG has also been blamed for urban bombings. However, it has largely degenerated into a bandit organization devoted to piracy and kidnapping foreign tourists for ransom. Given Manila’s weakness in controlling the country’s periphery, it is only with the assistance of U.S. forces that these “entrepreneurs in violence” have been contained.[41]

Along with the Muslim minority, indigenous (largely upland) communities have long felt discriminated against by the government and the dominant lowland Christian majority. Those classified by law as indigenous constitute 15 percent to 20 percent of the population.[42] Roughly 60 percent of these indigenous peoples have their ancestral homes in Mindanao, while another 33 percent live in Luzon.[43] A UN report notes “significant human rights violations” against indigenous communities as the result of “economic activities such as logging, mining, multi-purpose dams, commercial plantations, and other development projects….Sometimes…entire areas are reported to have been devastated without regard to the wishes and rights of indigenous communities.”[44]

The constitution enshrines the right to form associations for purposes not contrary to the law as well as the right to mobilize and advocate for peaceful purposes. The state does not compel citizens directly or indirectly to belong to particular associations. The wide array of organizations in the country indicates the substantial freedom of association that Filipinos enjoy. In 2003, over 20 percent of the total number of paid employees in the country belonged to trade unions.[45] While citizens are free to join groups and mobilize for peaceful protests, the government often fails to exercise restraint when dispersing demonstrators. Historically, rallies of peasant farmers and urban poor have frequently evolved into violent clashes.

Rule of Law: 

The Philippine constitution provides formal safeguards for judicial independence, and in recent rulings the Supreme Court has exhibited a considerable degree of independence from the executive and legislative branches. Major problems, however, plague the Philippine judicial system as a whole. Especially troubling in the overall assessment of rule-of-law indicators are recent trends in civil-military relations.

While there are many judges who fearlessly uphold the rule of law even in the face of substantial personal risk, the Philippine judicial system suffers from chronic inefficiency and widespread perceptions of corruption. As summarized in an acronym coined by a recent chief justice of the Supreme Court, there are “urgent ACID problems that corrode justice, namely, limited access to justice by the poor, corruption, incompetence, and delay in the delivery of quality justice.”[46] Many express a lack of confidence in the impartiality and competence of the judiciary. The late Jaime Cardinal Sin, archbishop of Manila, once denounced the “judicial Judases” found throughout the judicial system and observed that the study and practice of law in the Philippines are “as different as heaven and hell.”[47] Current reforms are designed to enhance the judiciary’s independence, competence, probity, timeliness, and impartiality, but a persistent problem is the severe lack of resources provided to the judiciary.

The court system extends from local-level courts up through regional trial courts, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan (Anti-Graft Court), and the Supreme Court. The selection of judges for these and other more specialized courts begins with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which has four ex-officio members (the chief justice, the secretary of justice, a member of the House of Representatives, and a member of the Senate) as well as four members appointed by the president with the consent of the joint House-Senate Commission on Appointments. The JBC considers the suitability of applicants based, at least formally, on a range of important minimum qualifications. It forwards a list of three candidates for each vacancy to the president, who then makes the appointment without legislative confirmation. A recent study team of the ABA reports that “the perception as to fairness in the Presidential appointment power was uniformly negative.” At every step of the selection process, it is noted, personal connections outweigh professional expertise. “It was reported that politicians may call an applicant and ask what the judge would do for them if they supported the nomination.” Judges enjoy a good deal of independence once in office, but “‘gratitude’ to the appointing authority may remain an issue” along with the influence of personal and familial connections.[48] This feeds long-standing concerns about the vulnerability of Philippine judges to political influence.

The 1987 constitution guarantees fiscal autonomy to the judicial branch: appropriations must be automatically released by the executive and cannot be reduced below the amount appropriated the previous year. In relative terms, however, the judiciary’s share declined from 1.17 percent of the national budget in 1998 to 0.88 percent of the national budget in 2004.[49] The lower courts sometimes have difficulty paying their telephone and electric bills and often lack basic equipment (computers, photocopying machines, and the like). It is not uncommon for local courts to be beholden to local governments for the provision of their basic needs; in such a situation, local politicians can choose to deprive judges of their phone service. Courthouses are often in poor physical condition and uniformly lack basic security staff.[50]

The judicial system is bogged down by a huge backlog of cases, numbering over 800,000 at the end of 2005. One factor is the 30 percent vacancy rate in prosecutorial positions. As the ABA study team explained, slow justice contributes to the overcrowded prison conditions discussed above; as a result, “many accused languish in jails in violation of their constitutional rights.” Further factors behind these judicial delays are the reluctance of judges to use contempt and subpoena powers to speed up the judicial process and the alleged corruption of process servers, sheriffs, and police.[51]

As part of the Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR), initiated by former Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide in 2001, there was a 100 percent increase in judicial salaries between 2002 and 2006. This development has reportedly helped increase the number of applicants for vacant judgeships.[52] Nonetheless, according to a study recently cited by a Supreme Court justice, the salaries of upper-level judges are roughly one-sixth the salaries of their counterparts in the private sector. As he concluded, “a judiciary that has to be concerned on how to earn its own income for its very subsistence is not fully independent as it is not free from fear or free from want.”[53] A recent survey revealed that judges are also concerned about their own physical safety. Between 1999 and 2006, 10 judges were killed.[54]

The public continues to perceive substantial corruption in the judiciary. According to the ABA report, “many litigants apparently come to their attorneys expecting to have to pay for a favorable result, and some attorneys have apparently lost clients when they refuse” to make such a payment. Some credit the APJR and other reforms with helping to reduce the scope of corruption,[55] but reformers will continue to face the problem in the years to come.

To the extent that money buys justice, those without resources suffer most from the system’s lack of impartiality. In a country with huge disparities of wealth and power, issues of access loom particularly large. Only 40 percent of respondents in a 2003 survey agreed with the statement: “Whether rich or poor, people who have cases in court generally receive equal treatment.” [56] Those with wealth or political connections are able not only to hire the best lawyers but also to purchase a favorable result from prosecutors or judges. Lack of English skills disadvantages many poor Filipinos as they confront the legal system. Public defenders are given minimal salaries, and vacancy rates for such positions are even higher than those for prosecutorial jobs. This further aggravates the inability of the poor to gain access to justice, and undercuts the constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence. People with resources, meanwhile, know how to work the system to their advantage. It is rare for high-ranking government officials to be prosecuted, and convictions are even rarer. In 2004, the ombudsman admitted that it had been at least 15 years since a “big fish” had been successfully prosecuted.[57]

It is important to emphasize, however, that the Supreme Court has demonstrated its capacity to resist political pressures from both the executive and the legislative branches of government. Most recently, as noted above (see Accountability and Public Voice), the Supreme Court in November 2006 blocked the joint attempt of the palace and the speaker of the House to push through a “people’s initiative” to amend the constitution. This was all the more notable given that a majority of the high court’s members had been appointed by the president herself. This and other judgments in closely watched cases have been accepted as the law of the land and served to demonstrate the independence of the judiciary.

The Philippines has a long history of civilian control over the military, even during the martial-law regime headed by Ferdinand Marcos (who was, unlike many other authoritarian leaders in the region, a politician rather than a general).[58] The challenge of the post–martial law years has been military adventurism rather than military dominance. In the late 1980s, a total of nine coups were attempted against the government.[59] They were all failures, but they revealed the military’s high degree of factional division, weak chain of command, and very low degree of institutionalization. Retired military officers have gone on to play important roles in the government, including the leading defender of constitutional government (future President Ramos, elected in 1992) and the most prominent leader of the post-Marcos coups (future Senator Gregorio Honasan, elected in 1995). Their shift to electoral politics is often read as an indication of military power within civilian institutions, but in many ways it reflects instead the historical dominance of civilian institutions over those of the military.

Even so, the power of the military cannot be discounted. It is most apparent when there is division within or among civilian institutions, at which point the military has been able to tip the balance. The prime example is the decision of Joseph Estrada to leave the presidential palace in 2001 once he lost the support of senior military and police officers. Military factions are also capable of undermining confidence in the government even when their putschist actions fail; they demonstrate dissatisfaction with civilian leaders, who commonly increase favors to the military in response. A July 2003 mutiny in the financial district of Metro Manila was easily put down, for example, but not without unnerving the palace and encouraging special attention to the needs of top commanders.[60] Most recently, military adventurism brought an apparent coup attempt in February 2006, intended to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos. The coup plans were leaked, and the plotters failed to garner the support they had hoped for. In the aftermath, the government took the opportunity to crack down on a range of opponents while assiduously cultivating top military officials. Political institutions have been weakened in the pursuit of regime preservation, and civil liberties have often been set aside. In such an environment, the military may again be the deciding factor between contending civilian factions.

As in the judicial system, a major constraint on property rights in the Philippines stems from unequal access to legal protections. The country has a long history of land grabbing, in which privileged elites dispossess the poor of their lands through both coercion and superior knowledge of the law. The postwar years have not witnessed the sustained success with land reform found elsewhere in East Asia. For those who can afford to initiate civil cases to protect property rights, there are frequent delays in contract enforcement and resolution of bankruptcy disputes. These delays bring insecurity to property owners, inhibiting investment. A recent index of property rights protections lists the Philippines in the third quartile of 70 countries surveyed worldwide.[61]

Indigenous communities’ legal hold over ancestral domains has long been threatened by government allocation of resource rights to logging and mining interests. Building on previous legal efforts to improve security of tenure,[62] the 1987 constitution commits the state to protect the rights of “indigenous cultural communities” to ancestral lands, “subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national development policies and programs” (Article XII, Section 5).[63] The 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) provided new legal avenues for securing community-based property rights and created a National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to promote indigenous people’s rights and well-being. Mining interests challenged IPRA in the courts, but its constitutionality was confirmed by the Supreme Court in late 2000. On paper, these constitutional and statutory provisions provide an exemplary foundation for upholding indigenous rights. In practice, several factors inhibit their effectiveness: the government’s lack of commitment and institutional capacity, indigenous communities’ distrust of government agencies, legal inconsistencies, insufficient grassroots access to legal expertise, and continuing threats from the mining and lumber industries and their supporters within the government.[64]

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Corruption is extensive throughout the Philippine state apparatus, from the lowest to the highest levels. Bribes and extortion seem to be a regular element of the complex connections among bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, the press, and the public. In the 2006 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines tied with Russia for 121st out of 163 countries (within the region, it placed ahead of Indonesia, Cambodia, and Myanmar and behind Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam).[65]

Philippine public institutions display a weak separation between the official and private spheres, and special access to the state apparatus has been the major avenue for private wealth accumulation. Indeed, the term “crony capitalism” was created to describe the plunderous activities of the Marcos regime. Limited attempts at economic reform under the administration of Corazon Aquino were launched amid ready acknowledgement that “the base for crony capitalism” survived Marcos’s downfall in 1986. Among the most forceful official attacks on these practices came at the 1992 inauguration of President Fidel Ramos, who declared that the Philippine economic system “rewards people who do not produce at the expense of those who do…[and] enables [those] with political influence to extract wealth without effort from the economy.”

Economic reforms, particularly those of the Ramos administration, sought to shrink the state’s role in the economy and thereby reduce corruption. This involved extensive privatization, trade liberalization, and substantial deregulation of such basic industries as telecommunications and shipping. Large family conglomerates remain important, but external openness has limited monopoly power and provided a fair and even test to new entrants in areas including manufactured exports, information technology, and e-business.[66] Even in the wake of changes brought about by years of deregulation and liberalization, however, the country remains hampered by what the World Bank sees as “the inability of public institutions to resist capture by special interests” and a “limited ability to provide public goods and services.”[67]

While well-crafted anticorruption laws are on the books and there is no lack of graft allegations, the enforcement of prohibitions on corruption is often woefully deficient. The media reports freely—often rambunctiously—on corruption charges, and journalists themselves are sometimes accused of collecting bribes for publishing both attacks and defenses of public officials (a system known as AC–DC, or “Attack Collect–Defend Collect”). Election campaigns regularly revolve around allegations of corruption, and political alliances are a central factor in determining who is currently under investigation. The administration of nursing board exams was rocked by a cheating scandal in 2006,[68] but in general the country’s system of higher education seems to be relatively insulated from pervasive corruption.

Major contracts are voided because of perceptions of corruption, including a 2003 COMELEC attempt to modernize the electoral system that was subsequently nullified by the Supreme Court.[69] Perhaps the most dramatic story relates to the Manila international airport, described by one international newspaper as “a $500 million monument to the unpredictability of doing business in a country known for corruption and political turbulence.” Scheduled to open in late 2002, the badly needed facility sits unused to this day. On the basis of allegations of corruption, the Supreme Court in 2004 confirmed an executive decision declaring previous government contracts with private partners for the construction of the airport to be null and void. Negotiations continue amid allegations against contending parties, with little expectation that the government will seek to punish anyone responsible for corrupt acts. At this point, the overarching goal is simply to open the airport for business.[70]

There are many well-established mechanisms to fight corruption. The oldest is the Commission on Audit (COA), a constitutionally mandated agency that can trace its history to 1900. COA’s authority is limited to exposing corrupt acts; it does not have the authority to prosecute or punish corrupt officials. The main agency charged with investigating as well as prosecuting corruption cases is the office of the ombudsman (OMB), a special body mandated by the 1987 constitution and established in 1988. Charges are brought before the Sandiganbayan, a court specifically tasked with adjudicating cases of graft. The Sandiganbayan was established 1973 and its mandate was continued in the 1987 constitution.

Constitutional provisions seek to guarantee the OMB’s political independence. The ombudsman serves a seven-year fixed term of office with no possibility of reappointment and is removable only by impeachment. The OMB’s record, however, indicates that institutional independence does not guarantee efficacy in the fight against corruption. Under the leadership of the first ombudsman (1988–95), the OMB was notoriously inefficient. By the end of 1994, the office had a backlog of 14,652 cases.[71] The second ombudsman’s record (1995–2002) was no better. Indeed, confidence in his integrity dropped so low that impeachment proceedings were initiated against him for bribery and betrayal of the public trust. The third ombudsman was well regarded by advocates of clean government but resigned before the end of his term. He was replaced in 2005 by the head legal counsel to President Arroyo. Critics express ongoing concerns that the OMB has yet to go after “big fish,” focusing instead on petty charges. They remain particularly distraught over the OMB’s September 2006 dismissal of charges against the head of COMELEC for the automation contract that had been voided by the Supreme Court in 2004. Many hoped that such charges could have led to an overhaul of the poll body.[72]

However, with what is often the strong and creative support of international organizations and domestic civil society groups, there have been gains on other fronts in recent years. Responding to estimates that 20 percent of the funding for government contracts goes to kickbacks and commissions, a Government Procurement Reform Act was signed into law in 2003.[73] Its passage was aided by the earlier creation of a monitoring and advocacy organization, Procurement Watch Inc., which mounted a media campaign and received international support as well as the backing of NGOs that banded together in the Transparency and Accountability Network.[74] The goal is to rationalize the legal framework for procurement, and in the process “increase transparency, competitiveness, efficiency, accountability, and public monitoring of both the procurement process and the implementation of awarded contracts.”[75] But even the law’s most ardent supporters estimate that “it may very well take a decade to get it fully implemented and working across all levels of government.”[76]

Another recent initiative has been the use of “lifestyle checks” to determine whether government officials have “accumulated properties and/or who has incurred expenditures and/or who has ostentatiously displayed wealth manifestly out of proportion to his or her legitimate income.” The effort unites anticorruption agencies with accredited NGOs and has been funded by the European Union.[77] In 2006, the presidential palace noted in an annual report that such checks on officials of director rank or higher had resulted in 13 dismissals.[78] Critics, however, fear that this anticorruption strategy could be used instead to conduct witch hunts against personal rivals or to exact vengeance against superiors. They may also privilege sanctions against lower-level officials whose behavior is easier to monitor; higher officials, meanwhile, can simply engage in capital flight and money laundering.[79] The government’s Medium Term Philippine Development Plan for 2004 to 2010 urges the passage of a Whistleblower’s Protection Act to encourage public officials to expose corruption in their units.[80]

It is difficult to measure the success of these various efforts, but one recent survey showed that “the proportions of managers saying that ‘most’ or ‘almost all’ of the companies in their line of business give bribes to win public sector contracts” declined somewhat in most areas of the country between the 2003–2005 period and 2006. Still, for all the efforts that have been undertaken to combat corruption in the Philippines, there is little progress to show. As a recent World Bank report acknowledges, “the country has not had much success in combating corruption. Despite relatively intense media attention and the proliferation of so-called anticorruption agencies, corrupt exchanges have continued to pervade government activities.”[81]

Ultimately, curbing corruption depends not on piecemeal measures but on a concerted, long-term drive to build stronger institutions—particularly the bureaucracy and political parties. Bureaucratic reforms should aim to promote and enforce a clearer division between public and private, beginning with a targeted effort to build specific “islands of strength” and moving outward to other agencies. Effective bureaucratic reform, however, depends in turn on challenging the spoils system and the dysfunctional set of political incentives that it engenders. As long as politics is dominated by pork and patronage rather than programs and policies, politicians will continue to undermine even the best-laid plans for bureaucratic integrity. A promising first step would be well-conceived electoral reforms, through which the country could begin the long and challenging process of building stronger and more programmatic political parties.

The Philippine budget process involves legislative review and scrutiny but is nonetheless characterized by a high degree of executive prerogative. As in the pre–martial law years, presidential discretion in the release of appropriated funds encourages members of Congress to affiliate with the ruling party after presidential elections, thus undermining the goal of party cohesion discussed above.[82] The constitution allows the legislature to decrease but not increase the budget items proposed by the president. Legislators are also able to adopt special-purpose appropriations,[83] so-called lump-sum operations that now constitute 60 percent of the total budget. Some government revenues, such as the substantial earnings from gambling and sweepstakes programs, are not subject to legislative oversight. One recent evaluation of budget transparency and accountability gave the Philippines a 51 percent ranking (out of a possible 100 percent), noting many areas in which information is available to the public but also suggesting that there is much room for improvement. Congressional budget hearings are open to the public, but many decisions take place out of public view. This is particularly true at the final stage of budget legislation, when bicameral committees meet and are influenced by what is said to be substantial executive intervention.[84]

While the Philippines does not yet have a freedom of information law, the 1987 constitution very clearly recognizes “the right of the people to information on matters of public concern” (Article III, Section 7). This, along with statutory provisions and court rulings, gives the country “the most liberal information regime in Southeast Asia.” Even so, investigative journalists have suggested many ways in which government data could be more consistently and readily available to the public.[85]

  • COMELEC needs thoroughgoing reform, from the national to the local level, so that it can develop the capacity to maintain accurate lists of voters and execute an accurate and expeditious vote count. Allegations of election fraud, particularly postelection, wholesale manipulation of the vote count involving politicians and COMELEC officials, need to be investigated by independent prosecutors who are willing and able to press charges for wrongdoing.
  • The government should ensure the modernization of the ballot and the automation of the vote-tallying process prior to the next general elections in 2010.
  • The national police and COMELEC should work together to reduce election-related violence. The effort must include prompt investigation, prosecution, and punishment of violent acts.
  • The government should ensure that murders of journalists result in the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators. The national leadership must exhibit the political will to reverse the current culture of impunity.
  • It is important to sustain the momentum of judicial reforms initiated in recent years. Particular attention should be given to reforms seeking to reduce the politicization of the judicial appointment process. In addition, salaries of judges should be further increased to attract sufficient numbers of qualified candidates.
  • More resources should be devoted to ensure that poor defendants are provided with appropriate counsel and that citizens in rural areas have easier access to courts.
  • The principle of civilian control over the military should be continually reaffirmed. Discontent among junior officers should be addressed not by appeasing the top ranks but by addressing allegations of corruption within military structures. At the same time, acts of rebellion by the military should be vigorously investigated and prosecuted.
  • Recognition of indigenous land rights should be accompanied by broader government measures able to support, not undermine, the livelihood of indigenous peoples.
  • National leaders should consistently and unambiguously condemn the recent political killings and vigorously pursue the prosecution of all who are responsible.
  • Rebellion and sedition charges, as well as new antiterrorism provisions, should not be used to harass the political opposition or narrow the scope of legitimate political discourse.
  • Allegations of torture and violations of due process should be investigated promptly and fully, and the government should ensure appropriate prosecution and punishment. The first step toward this goal is the passage of a law criminalizing acts of torture.
  • Prison conditions, notably the lack of basic sanitation and sleeping space, need urgent attention as prison populations rapidly increase. Laws designed to protect children in custody should be strictly enforced. Female offenders should have separate facilities supervised by female staff.
  • The government should ensure the more consistent enforcement of laws against the trafficking of women and children, as well as those criminalizing domestic violence.
  • Training for law-enforcement personnel should include techniques on negotiating with demonstrators in order to reduce the use of force. Law enforcement personnel found to have used force indiscriminately should be appropriately punished.
  • Piecemeal attempts to fight corruption can produce valuable incremental gains, but the struggle for good governance ultimately requires a fundamental restructuring of the political system. A comprehensive reform agenda should be crafted around the challenging but essential long-term goals of strengthening bureaucratic coherence and encouraging the emergence of more institutionalized political parties.
  • The prosecution and punishment of corrupt acts involving top officials is critical in the fights against corruption. To that end, the government should institute measures that ensure the integrity and independence of the office of the ombudsman.
  • A law providing legal protections for whistleblowers should be adopted.
  • The current budget process, which privileges presidential discretion and undermines the cohesion of political parties, should be reformed to establish a more equal distribution of authority between the executive and legislative branches.

[1] Benedict Anderson, “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams,” in The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World (London: Verso, 1998). For further broad historical analysis of Philippine democracy, see Paul D. Hutchcroft and Joel Rocamora, “Strong Demands and Weak Institutions: The Origins and Evolution of the Democratic Deficit in the Philippines,” Journal of East Asian Studies 3, no. 2 (May–August 2003): 259–292.

[2] United Nations Office at Geneva, “UN Expert Says Extrajudicial Killings in Philippines Have a Corrosive Effect on Civil Society and Political Discourse,” news release, 22 February 2007,

[3] National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), “The Terminal Report to NAMFREL Operation Quick Count 2004,” 30 June 2004, 2.

[4] Data from COMELEC’s Statistical and Narrative Report—2004 National Elections, available at In 2006, the country’s 8 million overseas workers sent home remittances totaling $12.8 billion, or roughly 10 percent of the country’s economy. See “Filipino Remittances Hit $12.8bn,” BBC News, 15 February 2007,

[5] Namfrel, “The Terminal Report,” 2.

[6] Transcripts of “the alleged taped conversations between Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano” can be found on the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) website at, with perhaps the most commonly quoted conversation on page 16.

[7] See Roberto Verzola, “The True Results of the 2004 Philippine Presidential Election Based on the NAMFREL Tally,” Kasarinlan 19, no. 2 (2004): 92–118.

[8] Alecks Pabico, “Were the 2007 Elections Less Violent?” PCIJ, 5 July 2007,; Amnesty International (AI), Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process (London: AI, 15 August 2006), 3, 27,

[9] See the full July 3, 2007, Bantay Eleksyon final report at

[10] For comprehensive analysis of the election and its aftermath, see the “Special Post-Election Issue” of Newsbreak, July–September 2007.

[11] Based on a new formula being promulgated by Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, the number of seats allocated by PR would shrink further. For his explanation of the changes, see Artemio V. Panganiban, “Criticisms of the Panganiban Formula,”, 22 July 2007,

[12] Alfred W. McCoy, “Covert Netherworlds: Clandestine Services and Criminal Syndicates in Shaping the Philippine State,” in Government of the Shadows, ed. Tim Lindsey and Eric Wilson (London: Pluto Press, forthcoming 2007).

[13] Sheila S. Coronel, “The Philippines in 2006: Democracy and Its Discontents,” Asian Survey 47, no. 1 (2007): 175–182, at 178.

[14] See, e.g., two outstanding works on corruption edited by Coronel, then of the PCIJ: Pork and Other Perks: Corruption and Governance in the Philippines (Quezon City: PCIJ, 1998) and Betrayal of the Public Trust: Investigative Reports on Corruption (Quezon City: PCIJ, 2000). A third volume, for which Coronel served as lead author, provides an excellent account of the distinctive character of the pork barrel, the centrality of pork to the political system, and the way in which Philippine-style patronage politics undermines bureaucratic cohesion and the overall quality of governance. Coronel et al., The Rulemakers: How the Wealthy and Well-Born Dominate Congress (Quezon City: PCIJ, 2004).

[15] In 1999, the Estrada administration filed a lawsuit against one newspaper and organized a boycott of advertisers against another, but “this attack on the media galvanized middle-class sentiment against Estrada.” Randolf S. David, “Erap: A Diary of Disenchantment,” in Between Fires: Fifteen Perspectives on the Estrada Crisis, ed. Amando Doronila (Metro Manila: Anvil Publishing and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2001), 148–179, at 157–58 (quote at 158).

[16] Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Annual Report 2006 (Paris: RSF, 2006),; Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2006 (New York: Committee to Protect Journalists, 2007),; Report of the Independent Commission to Address Media and Activist Killings (chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose A. R. Melo), 22 January 2007, 48–49; RSF, Annual Report 2007 (Paris: RSF, 2007),

[17] Melo Commission Report, 1, 58; Marie Hilao-Enriquez, “Statement to the Hearing of the Subcommittee for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the 110th U.S. Congress” (Washington, DC, 14 March 2007),; AI, Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process, 2,; Human Rights Watch (HRW), Scared Silent: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines (New York: HRW, June 2007), The forthcoming UN report will be issued by Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

[18] T. Kumar, “Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines: Strategies to End the Violence” (testimony, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Washington, DC, 14 March 2007), 8; AI, Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process, 1–2; HRW, Scared Silent, 3. On the long-standing culture of impunity, see McCoy, Closer Than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 299–338.

[19] Melo Commission Report, 14–15; HRW, World Report 2007 (New York: HRW, 2007),; Robert Francis Garcia, To Suffer Thy Comrades: How the Revolution Decimated Its Own (Quezon City: Anvil, 2001).

[20] McCoy, “Covert Netherworlds.”

[21] Coronel, “The Philippines in 2006,” 176; AI, Report 2007 (London: AI, 2007),; American Bar Association (ABA) Asia Law Initiative, Judicial Reform Index for the Philippines (Washington, DC: ABA, March 2006), 23,

[22] See the compilation of news summaries on the Jurist website,

[23] AI, Philippines—Torture Persists: Appearance and Reality Within the Criminal Justice System (London: AI, 24 January 2003),

[24] “CHR to Step Up Lobby for Anti-torture Law,” Sun-Star Davao, 15 July 2006,
. See also Asian Human Rights Commission, “Law Needed to Stop Torture and Systemic Negligence in the Philippines,” news release, 31 March 2006,

[25] AI, “Philippines Abolishes the Death Penalty,” news release, 1 September 2006,

[26] Agence France-Presse, “Philippine Prison System a Living Hell Reminiscent of 19th Century,” Khaleej Times, 3 February 2007,

[27] AI, Report 2005 (London: AI, 2005),

[28] See Republic of the Philippines, Office of the President, “The Cabinet and Other Officials,”; National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), Report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (New York: United Nations, 2 August 2004), 74,

[29] Congress of the Philippines, House of Representatives, “Congressional Profile,”

[30] NCRFW, Report, 75.

[31] On the Supreme Court, see; on the Court of Appeals, see Data on the trial courts is calculated from NCRFW, Report, 74.

[32] ABA Asia Law Initiative, Judicial Reform Index for the Philippines, 18; NCRFW, Report, 94–95.

[33] NCRFW, Report, 99, 59–60.

[34] Ibid., 61, 65.

[35] UNIFEM, “Philippines: Country Snapshot,” UNIFEM East and Southeast Asia Regional Office, 2007,

[36] Japan International Cooperation Agency, Country Profile on Disability: The Republic of the Philippines (Tokyo: Japan International Cooperation Agency, March 2002), 8,

[37] Foundation for International Learning, Identifying Disability Issues Related to Poverty Reduction: Philippines Country Study (Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2002).

[38] International Crisis Group (ICG), Philippines Terrorism: The Role of Militant Islamic Converts (Brussels: ICG, 19 December 2005), 20,

[39] Joseph Chinyong Liow, Muslim Resistance in Southern Thailand and Southern Philippines: Religion, Ideology, and Politics (Washington, DC: East-West Center, 2006), 21–22.

[40] ICG, Philippines Terrorism, 20.

[41] “U.S. Helps Fight Against Abu Sayyaf,” BBC News, 2 April 2007,; ICG, Philippines Terrorism, 1; HRW, World Report 2007; Eric Gutierrez, “From Ilaga to Abu Sayyaf: New Entrepreneurs in Violence and their Impact on Local Politics in Mindanao,” Philippine Political Science Journal 24 (2003): 145–178; Herbert Docena, Unconventional Warfare: Are U.S. Special Forces Engaged in an ‘Offensive War’ in the Philippines? (Quezon City: Focus on the Global South, 2007),

[42] The Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) defines indigenous peoples as “homogeneous societies identified by self-ascription and ascription by others, who have continuously lived as organized community on communally bounded and defined territory, and who have, under claims of ownership since time immemorial, occupied, possessed and utilized such territories, sharing common bonds of language, customs, traditions and other distinctive cultural traits, or who have, through resistance to political, social and cultural inroads of colonization, non-indigenous religions and cultures, become historically differentiated from the majority of Filipinos.”

[43] Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, Mission to the Philippines (New York: United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, 5 March 2003), 7,

[44] Special Rapporteur, Mission to the Philippines, 13.

[45] Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, “Extent of Unionism,” Labstat Updates 8, no. 13 (October 2004).

[46] Artemio V. Panganiban, “Message from the Chief Justice,” in Annual Report 2005 (Manila: Supreme Court of the Philippines, 2006), 5,

[47] Paul D. Hutchcroft, The Philippines at the Crossroads: Sustaining Economic and Political Reforms, (New York: Asia Society, 1996).

[48] ABA Asia Law Initiative, Judicial Reform Index for the Philippines, 15.

[49] Ibid., 6, 26. The Supreme Court, which administers all lower courts, proposes that the judicial branch receive 2 percent of the national budget. Arcie M. Sercado, “SC Justice Tinga Speaks on Declining Judicial Pay, Calls for Judicial Budget Increase,” news release, Supreme Court Public Information Office, 4 April 2007,

[50] ABA Asia Law Initiative, Judicial Reform Index for the Philippines, 26, 28–29, 45.

[51] Ibid., 2, 22, 24–25.

[52] Ibid., 1, 27. According to a late 2006 poll, the percentage of judges who consider their compensation “inadequate” has dropped from 81 percent a decade ago to 61 percent today. Mahar Mangahas, Linda Luz Guerrero, and
Marlon Manuel, “New Diagnostic Study Sets Guideposts
for Systematic Development of the Judiciary,” news release, Social Weather Stations (SWS), 10 December 2006,

[53] Sercado, “SC Justice Tinga.”

[54] Mangahas, “New Diagnostic Study”; ABA Asia Law Initiative, Judicial Reform Index for the Philippines, 3.

[55] ABA Asia Law Initiative, Judicial Reform Index for the Philippines, 3.

[56] SWS, 2003–2004 Surveys, 43.

[57] Simeon V. Marcelo, “Ombudsman’s Briefing Paper on its Anti-Corruption Program” (presentation at the Combating Corruption Conference, Makati, Philippines, 22 September 2004).

[58] Eva-Lotta E. Hedman, “The Philippines: Not So Military, Not So Civil,” in Coercion and Governance: The Declining Political Role of the Military in Asia, ed. Muthiah Alagappa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 165–186.

[59] McCoy, Closer Than Brothers, 4.

[60] An official investigation into the 2003 mutiny brought forth a very well-considered agenda for reform, responding in part to junior officers’ grievances over corruption within the military. See “Findings of the Feliciano Commission,” Manila Times Internet Edition, 23 October 2003,

[61] Alexandra C. Horst, International Property Rights Index (IPRI) 2007 Report (Washington, DC: IPRI, 2007),

[62] Daniele Perrot-Maitre and Lynn Ellsworth, “The Philippines Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997,” in Deeper Roots: Strengthening Community Tenure Security and Community Livelihoods (New York: Ford Foundation, 2003),

[63] For a list of relevant provisions, see International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), “Constitutional Rights Relevant for Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines,” 2006,

[64] Perrot-Maitre and Ellsworth, “The Philippines Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act”; Special Rapporteur, Mission to the Philippines, 9–12; IWGIA, “Constitutional Rights”; Rorie R. Fajardo, “Alien Nation: Still Strangers in Their Own Land,” i Report Online Edition, 25 July 2007,

[65] Transparency International (TI), Corruption Perceptions Index 2006 (Berlin: TI, 2006),

[66] Emmanuel S. De Dios and Paul D. Hutchcroft, “Political Economy,” in The Philippine Economy: Development, Policies, and Challenges, ed. Arsenio Balisacan and Hal Hill (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, and Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002).

[67] Philippines Country Management Unit, Country Assistance Strategy for the Philippines, 2006–2008 (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2005), 13.

[68] See Carlos H. Conde, “Scandal over Nurses’ Exams Stirs Unease in Philippines,” New York Times, 21 August 2006,

[69] Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines et al. v. Commission on Elections et al. (Philippine Sup. Ct. No. 159139, 13 January 2004).

[70] Carlos H. Conde, “Free Flow: Airport Snag Hurts Outlook in Manila,” International Herald Tribune, 27 October 2005,; Roel Landigin, “A Commercial Compromise: A Less-Than-Perfect Solution May be the Only Way to Open NAIA-3,” Newsbreak, 11 February 2006,

[71] Cecile C. A. Balgos, “Ombudsman,” in Pork and Other Perks, ed. Coronel.

[72] Kristin L. Alave, “Watchdog to Gov’t: Where’s Big Fish?” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2 August 2007; “The Street Ombudsman,” Newsbreak, 21 November 2006; Transparency and Accountability Network, “Press Statement,” 16 October 2006,

[73] Procurement Watch Inc., “Procurement Reform in the Philippines: Changing the Rules of the Game” (PowerPoint presentation, n.d., involving Ed Campos, Tina Pimentel, and Jacinto Gavino),

[74] J. Edgardo Campos and Jose Luis Syquia, Managing the Politics of Reform: Overhauling the Legal Infrastructure of Public Procurement in the Philippines (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2006).

[75] TI, Global Corruption Report 2004 (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 237.

[76] Campos and Syquia, Managing the Politics of Reform, 32.

[77] “COA Joins 14 Government Agencies, NGOs in Lifestyle Check Coalition,” COA News 4, no. 2 (April–June 2003),; see also TI, Global Corruption Report 2004, 238.

[78] Presidential Management Staff, “2006 State of the Nation Address: Technical Report,” July 2006, 74,

[79] TI, Global Corruption Report 2004, 238–39. The latter problem is to be addressed by the Anti-Money Laundering Act, passed in 2003 under pressure from the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force.

[80] Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Whistleblowing in the Philippines: Awareness, Attitudes and Structures (Makati: AIM–Hills Governance Center, 2006),

[81] SWS, The 2006 SWS Survey of Enterprises on Corruption (Quezon: SWS, 6 July 2006); Campos and Syquia, Managing the Politics of Reform, 3–4.

[82] Gabriella R. Montinola, “Parties and Accountability in the Philippines,” Journal of Democracy 10, no.1 (January 1999): 126–140, at 136, 139. As she notes, “this system provided overwhelming disincentives to party loyalty…, meaningful electoral choice, and democratic accountability.”

[83] Global Integrity, “Philippines: Integrity Scorecard,” in 2006 Country Reports (Washington, DC: Global Integrity, 2007),

[84] The International Budget Project Open Budget Initiative, “The Philippines: Open Budget Index 2006” (Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2006),; Rorie Fajardo, “Lack of Transparency in Gov’t’s ‘Special-Purpose Funds’ Rapped,” GMA News Services, 8 November 2006,

[85] Yvonne T. Chua, “The Philippines: A Liberal Information Regime Even Without an Information Law,”, 17 January 2003,