Freedom in the World
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Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The Philippines's political rights rating declined from 2 to 3, and its status from Free to Partly Free, due to credible allegations of massive electoral fraud, corruption, and the government's intimidation of elements in the political opposition.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration, which apparently won reelection in 2004 amid claims that it had boosted tax revenues and stabilized the budget deficit, encountered a crisis-filled year in 2005. An economic and fiscal crisis, linked to inflationary election-year spending by the constitutionally anomalous incumbent presidential candidate, paved the way for allegations of massive electoral fraud and the resignation of 11 cabinet members. The president also faced an opposition movement that included former president Corazon Aquino and influential national business associations. Her administration continued to struggle to reign in armed separatist and terrorist groups in the south, while attacks on journalists and human rights activists rose sharply during the year.
The Philippines won independence in 1946 after being ruled for 43 years by the United States and occupied by the Japanese during World War II. It held U.S. commonwealth status from 1935 until its independence. Once one of Southeast Asia's wealthiest nations, the Philippines has been plagued since the 1960s by insurgencies, economic mismanagement, and widespread corruption. The country's economic and political development was set back by Ferdinand Marcos's 14-year dictatorship. Marcos was finally chased from office in 1986 in a popular movement that installed Corazon Aquino, who had been cheated out of an electoral victory by the regime weeks earlier.
Aquino initiated a more liberal, reform-oriented system of government that set out to make significant democratic reforms. However, in the end, Aquino's administration failed to implement more than procedural reforms and managed few substantive changes to improve the socioeconomic situation of the population. Social and economic elites reconsolidated their hold on power under Aquino, and electoral politics continued to reflect strongly the entrenched positions of elite political families. In the May 1992 presidential poll, Fidel Ramos-a key figure in the demonstrations that forced Marcos into exile-narrowly defeated Agrarian Reform Secretary Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Joseph Estrada, vice president under Ramos, won the 1998 presidential election by a wide margin, securing strong support from impoverished Filipinos in a campaign built around promises of concrete socioeconomic reform. Almost from the outset, the Estrada administration was dogged by allegations of corruption, although an impeachment process eventually failed, stalled in a deadlocked Senate. In retrospect, Estrada's administration seems to have been no more graft-prone than either that of Fidel Ramos, who came before, or that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who succeeded him. The campaign against Estrada, however, had political support, and massive street protests removed him from office in 2001. Since that time, the prospect of massive demonstration-driven transitions in leadership has provided a more or less constant hypothetical alternative to electoral removal.
Macapagal-Arroyo, who was Estrada's vice president, assumed the presidency, and her political coalition soon won 8 of 13 contested Senate seats and a majority in the House in the May 2001 legislative elections. Nevertheless, Arroyo was dogged by questions about the legitimacy of her unelected administration. In the run-up to the May 2004 presidential election, Arroyo seemed initially to win over opposing candidate Fernando Poe Jr. with a reported 1.1-million-vote margin of victory. From the outset, however, charges of massive voter fraud began to circulate (not in itself a rare event in Philippine politics). Poe's supporters waged demonstrations, but these faltered until administration insiders themselves began to verify the charges.
As a postelection fiscal crisis emerged, an audiotape of a conversation between the president and election officials surfaced in June 2005. The conversation, admitted to be genuine by government officials, seemed to confirm allegations that the president had used her incumbent powers to rig the elections. Allegations that her husband and son were involved in illegal gambling activities (similar to those that led to Estrada's downfall) forced Macapagal-Arroyo to send both into a much publicized, though ultimately short-lived, voluntary exile; many cabinet officials resigned to fuel a new opposition movement. By year's end, protests calling for the president's resignation had grown more frequent, and the anti-Macapagal-Arroyo movement included Corazon Aquino, a broad array of civil society groups, and 11 former members of the government. Rumors also suggested that factions of the military would join the move to oust the government.
The administration undertook several efforts, including gag orders and punitive prosecution, to undercut the opposition movement. Recently, it initiated court-martial proceedings against Marine Brigadier General Francisco Gudani, superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy, when he decided (against administration orders) to answer a Senate subpoena and testify against the administration. By year's end, Executive Order 464 was announced, preventing department heads, high ranking military officers, and potentially a wide range of other executive branch officials from testifying before Congress without prior clearance from the president.
The southern Philippines continued to be wracked by Islamic militancy during the year. Abu Sayyaf continued to engage in terrorist activities, including bombings and kidnappings. Although claiming to be a Muslim secessionist group, its activities appeared to be motivated mostly by the financial gains made by ransoms. Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda, is believed to have training grounds on the southern island of Mindanao. The Communist insurgency also continued at a low level. While the insurgency is nowhere as potent as in the middle 1980s, extortion of local businesses and attacks on military and civilian targets in the countryside have helped cripple rural development. The general security problem is compounded by the high level of corruption in the security forces. Human rights violations, particularly against journalists and human rights advocates, increased in 2004 and 2005.
Citizens of the Philippines can change their government democratically. However, the fairness of Philippine elections has been called dramatically into question by recent events. The Philippine National Police reported 192 incidents of electoral violence during the May 2004 presidential polls.
The Philippines has a presidential system of government, with the directly elected president limited to a single six-year term. The current president's constitutionally anomalous position stems from her initial rise to office in an extraconstitutional transition process, in which military pressure and protest drove Joseph Estrada from office. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo completed Estrada's first term, and then-despite some legal challenges-ran for a second, full term. As protest against her government mounted in 2005, many politicians, including former President Fidel Ramos, suggested that her second term be shortened, so that both together would add up to six years; Macapagal-Arroyo rejected this appeal.
The legislative Congress is bicameral. The 24 members of the Senate are elected on a nationwide ballot and serve six-year terms. The 264 members of the House of Representatives serve three-year terms; 212 of them are elected by district, and 52 of them are chosen by party list. Legislative coalitions are exceptionally fluid as alliances, and even parties rise and fall with the tide of wider political events. In 2005, the ruling People's Power Coalition was headed by President Macapagal-Arroyo's party, the National Union of Christian Democrats (Lakas); the main opposition party is the Struggle for a Democratic Philippines (Laban).
Corruption, cronyism, and influence peddling are widely believed to be rife in business and government. Despite recent economic reforms, a few dozen powerful families continue to play an overarching role in politics and hold an outsized share of land and corporate wealth. The Philippines was ranked 117 out of 159 out of countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The private press (most print and electronic media) is vibrant and outspoken, although newspaper reports often consist more of innuendo and sensationalism than investigative reporting, and many newspapers mostly declined to cover opposition activities until quite recently. Even though many television and radio stations are government owned, they are still outspoken, though they too lack strict journalistic ethics. Although the censorship board does have broad powers to edit or ban content, in general, government censorship is not a serious problem and tends to enforce purported moral standards rather than political orientation. However, the Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work, according to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines. Eight Journalists were killed in 2004, and the 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report cites 8 such murders in 2005; radio journalists accounted for 75 percent of these deaths. While many were reportedly victims of revenge killings following their stories about crimes committed by local government officials, some were outspoken government critics. The internet is widely available and uncensored, with over 38,000 internet hosts. University professors and other teachers can lecture and publish freely.
Filipinos of all faiths can worship freely in this mainly Christian society, and church and state are separate. However, Muslims say that they face economic and social discrimination in mainstream society at the hands of the country's Roman Catholic majority. Many, according to a Social Weather Stations survey, report that discrimination has risen in the wake of global and national antiterrorism efforts. There are also reports of reverse discrimination (against Christians) in areas such as Mindanao, where Muslims are in the majority. Muslim-majority provinces lag behind Christian-majority ones on most development indicators. Only 12 of 236 members of Congress are Muslims, a figure that falls far short of proportional. According to the 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report, ethnic minorities have equal juridical representation in the political system but suffer the consequences of living in remote, poorly served, and often insurgency-threatened areas of the country.
Citizens can hold protests, rallies, and other demonstrations without government interference. The law requires that groups request a permit before holding a rally, but this law is often ignored in practice. The Philippines has many active environmental, human rights, social welfare, and other nongovernmental groups. Trade unions are independent, and they may align themselves with international trade union confederations or trade secretariats. Collective bargaining is widespread, and strikes may be called, though unions must provide notice and obtain majority approval from union membership before calling a strike. Strikes often risk violence, however, as when police fired on striking plantation workers in Tarlac Province in November 2004, killing 12 and injuring more than 100. Only 4 percent of the national labor force is unionized.
Despite many gains since the Marcos era, the rule of law continues to be weak. The judiciary, while generally independent, is hampered by corruption and inefficiency. Low pay for judges and prosecutors is often cited as a major factor in making bribes and payoffs central to the resolution of most court cases. The constitution sets time limits for court cases, but because of backlogs, and because these limits are not mandatory, they are mostly ignored. There has been recent concern over the high number of incidents in which whistle-blowers who have resigned from government are charged with graft. Independent observers do not believe that the judicial system adequately guarantees defendants' constitutional rights to due process and legal representation.
Reports of arbitrary and unlawful detention or arrest in harsh prison conditions, disappearances, kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, and abuse of suspects and detainees continue. The 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report cites a local Philippine source, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, which stated that "torture remained an ingrained part of the arrest and detention process"; that same report cited several instances of extrajudicial killings by security forces, as well as the excessive use of force. Members of the poorly disciplined Philippine National Police (PNP) are regularly described by the official Commission on Human Rights as the country's worst rights abusers. A significant subset of these extrajudicial murders target human rights workers. The PNP is under the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The long-running conflict between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the separatist Islamic rebel group, has caused severe hardship for many of the 15 million Filipinos on southern Mindanao and nearby islands. Amnesty International recently accused both government and insurgent forces of summary killings and other human rights abuses in these conflicts. MILF guerrillas have attacked many Christian villages. Separately, the smaller Abu Sayyaf group has kidnapped and tortured many civilians and beheaded some of its captives. Islamic militants are suspected in a string of bombings on Mindanao in recent years, including a September 2005 bombing in Zamboanga that injured 24 people; in 2003, bombings in Davao City killed at least 38 people.
In the countryside, the 10,000-strong New People's Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist insurgency, continues to engage in executions, torture, and kidnappings, according to the 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report. The army and progovernment militias operating in Mindoro Oriental and other provinces are responsible for summary killings, disappearances, torture, and illegal arrests while fighting Communist rebels, according to Amnesty International. There were 150,000 internally displaced persons in the Philippines, mainly as a consequence of the Islamic insurgencies.
Citizens may travel freely, and there are no restrictions on employment or place of residence. The government generally respects the privacy of its citizens. However, the poor security situation takes a serious toll on individuals' ability to operate private businesses. Street crime, drug trafficking, kidnappings, extortion, and terrorist violence all conspire against business interests.
Filipino women have the same juridical rights as men, though this is not always borne out in practice. Women have made many social and economic gains in recent years, and more women than men now enter high school and university. In the job market, though, women face some discrimination in the private sector and have a higher unemployment rate than men, according to the 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report. The UN Development Program's 2005 Human Development Report ranks the Philippines 66 on its Gender-Related Development Index, which compares favorably with the country's overall score of 84 on the Human Development Index.
Nevertheless, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment on the job, and trafficking of Filipino women and girls abroad and at home for forced labor and prostitution continue to be major problems despite government and civil efforts to protect women from violence and abuse. In a recent Social Weather Stations survey, 15 percent of male respondents admitted to having caused physical harm to some woman. There are reports of bonded labor, especially of children, in underground sectors such as prostitution and drug trafficking. The NPA, MILF, and Abu Sayyaf have also been accused of using child soldiers, and in Mindanao in particular, this practice appears to be on the rise, according to Amnesty International.