Philippines Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in 1986, abbreviated as PHL by Abbreviationfinder, Philippines has had a democratic rule. General elections are held regularly, but have often led to violence. Voice purchases are common. On paper, legal security in the country is good, but in practice there are major shortcomings, often in favor of the small elite who also dominate politics. During Rodrigo Duterte’s term as president, respect for human rights has deteriorated. Corruption is a major problem.

Since the president is only entitled to sit for a term of six years, regular shifts of power occur. Several presidents have been forced to resign following popular protests (see Modern History). The turnout is often high. Electoral movements are often bordered by violence, but the national elections held in 2016 and 2019 were comparatively calm. Large landlords often dominate entire provinces and buy the votes of small farmers and farmers in the elections.

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Citizens are free to form political parties. In addition to a number of smaller parties, ideologies do not play a major role in party politics, and new parties and party alliances are often formed in connection with presidential elections. It is also common for congressmen to change parties, especially in connection with presidential elections (see also Political system). There are no restrictions on the amount of campaign contributions that parties / candidates may receive.

Current President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June 2016, holds a strong position with his own majority in the House of Representatives and since May 2019 also in the Senate. At the same time, attempts are made to silence the critical voices still in Congress. Legal proceedings are in progress against some of the opposition’s most outspoken representatives, especially Senator Leila de Lima. The charges against her are generally considered politically motivated (see also Current Policy).

Since the 1980s, several strong popular movements and voluntary organizations have also been formed with involvement in issues such as the environment, human rights and social justice. Demonstrations are common.

In recent years, the position of women in society has been strengthened (see also Social conditions). In 2016, just over one in four congressmen were women, 86 of the 292 members of the House of Representatives were women and 6 of 24 senators. 12 women were elected governors that year. More women than men registered to vote and turnout was somewhat higher among women than among men. The country has had two women as presidents, Corazon Aquino (1986-1992) and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001–2010; she sat for more than six years, since she initially stepped in as replacement for Joseph Estrada after he was forced to resign after corruption charges).

Freedom of expression and media

The constitution guarantees freedom of press and expression. Filipino media are often outspoken, but freedom is limited by advocacy laws that power holders use to silence criticism of them. It is dangerous to be a journalist in the Philippines. According to the Press Freedom Organization Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 80 Filipino journalists were killed between 1992 and 2017 (the organization lists a further 60 cases where it was not confirmed that journalists were killed due to their profession).

Few of the perpetrators have been punished for these crimes. It was until the end of 2019 before the first judgments fell against those involved in a notable massacre at Mindanao in 2009 when 57 people, of whom 32 journalists and other media workers were murdered. The suspicions were quickly directed at the powerful Ampatuan clan, which has long dominated politics in the Maguindanao province. In July 2015, one of the principal suspects, Andal Ampatuan Sr. passed away. In December 2018, 28 people were sentenced to life imprisonment for the act, but 80 are still on the charge. During the legal process, several witnesses or their relatives have been murdered (see also Calendar).

In 2012, a new law was adopted to combat online crime, which includes, among other things, advocacy laws that are similar to those applicable to press and ether media, but which can be punished even more severely (imprisonment for up to six years). The law aroused protests from those who felt the government was given too sweeping powers to shut down and monitor web sites. In February 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the advocacy section of the law did not violate the Constitution. Former President Benigno Aquino defended in connection with the law he said would not be used to restrict freedom of expression in the Philippines.

Even before Rodrigo Duterte had taken over the presidential post in 2016, he made several threatening statements to journalists. He appeared to support “corrupt journalists” and claimed that those who had been murdered “probably did something” to deserve his fate. In retrospect, it has emerged how methodically the Dutertel camp used social media during the 2016 election campaign, when the opposition was flung through texts and films that were spread with the help of 500 “volunteers”, bloggers, cures and more. After Duterte took over as president, he and the government have used the same channels to support their policies, not least the president’s war on drugs. The threats and harassment against media workers have also increased significantly.

This was first noticed by the Rappler news site, founded in 2012 by CNN journalist Maria Ressa, among others. Rappler’s material is widely disseminated through social media. Its reporting has many times been a nail in the eye of President Rodrigo Duterte, who on a number of occasions has harshly criticized the site. In early 2018, the Philippine Financial Supervisory Authority decided to revoke the issuing permit for Rappler, citing that the company violated the rules that domestic media must not have foreign owners (see also Calendar). However, the decision has been appealed. Further legal proceedings have been initiated against Ressa for tax crimes and “cyber defamation”.

In the months following Duterte’s entry, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published lists of those who had been killed in his war on the drugs, but ended it, among other things, following the threat of a tax process, the owner family has sold its shares to Ramon Ang, a corporate tycoon friend of Duterte. The TV company ABS-CBN has also reported on extra-judicial executions and that Duterte has hidden money on secret accounts and risks being punished for not having his broadcast license renewed when the old one expires in 2020. It was closed in early May 2020, following a decision by the Philippine Radio and TV Authority National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) (see Calendar).

In 2017, a new law came into force that gives journalists access to government documents and protocols. However, criticism has been directed at the fact that the media has a hard time getting the documents they want to read, because of the many exceptions.

A special police unit was created in 2006 to combat the violence against journalists, but this has not led to any major changes.

According to a law, the Human Security Act of 2007, journalists can be intercepted if they are suspected of conspiring with terrorists. In 2013, a journalist was convicted of a fine for publishing the name of a criminal suspect who had already been named in a police report that was public.

There is a censorship authority for film and television programs, but it rarely interferes with political material.

A small number of families control a large part of the media offering that they often use to advance their own political and financial interests. There is an open debate about whether bribes are paid to influence the media’s news reporting. There are about 500 newspapers. About 10 newspapers, most of them in English, are responsible for more serious news reporting. There are also a number of tabloid magazines on tagalog and cebuano mainly contains sensation articles. Many of the more serious magazines also publish special tabloid newspapers.

Most of the several hundred radio stations are financed with advertising. In rural areas, many radio stations are owned by locally influential families. Many churches also have their own radio channels. Television broadcasts are dominated by commercial channels. Some channels broadcast in local languages. Many people also watch cable TV. Movies and various entertainment programs attract the most viewers.

About two-thirds of all Filipinos are online, often through smart phones. Of these, at least 97 percent have a Facebook account, and more and more Filipinos now receive a large portion of their news via Facebook.

In Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in the world, the Philippines ranked number 136 out of 180 countries in 2020, two rankings lower than the year before.


Corruption is a problem in politics as well as the judiciary and business. Duterte has promised to take action against the corruption and tens of thousands of public servants have been forced to leave because of suspected corruption. However, few people have been convicted of any crimes.

However, Imelda Marcos, widow of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was sentenced to prison 2018 for, along with her husband, having embezzled about $ 200 million through Swiss foundations when she sat in the government in the 1970s and 1980s (see Calendar), but she appealed against the verdict and was so far free from bail.

Corruption cases are handled by the Sandiganbayan court, but often extend over time for several years. A new ombudsman was appointed in 2012 to investigate major corruption cases high up in the power hierarchy.

When Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno began investigating allegations that Duterte did not report all his financial assets, which he is obliged to do, she was threatened with national law. She was forced to leave her post in May 2018 (see Calendar). Sereno had also been one of the foremost critics of the president’s war on drugs (see below).

According to the organization Transparency International index list of perceived corruption in the countries of the world, in 2018, the Philippines ranked 99 out of 180 countries.

Judicial system and legal security

The courts are formally distinct from political power. In practice, however, those who have the power and money can influence the legal processes in their favor. Low wages contribute to corruption. The judicial system is also ineffective, partly due to under staffing.

In the Muslim territories, Sharia law is applied with regard to family law, but be for Muslims. In the Muslim courts, the shortage of judges is even greater than in the other judiciary.

There is an independent ombudsman institution whose task is to review the public’s complaints against representatives of state authorities. In addition, since 1987, there has been an independent Commission on Human Rights, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which is funded with state money.

The death penalty was abolished in 2006. Many Filipinos wanted to keep it, but the Catholic Church pushed for it to be abolished. President Duterte has made statements indicating that he wants to reinstate the death penalty. According to a law from 2009, all forms of torture are prohibited. Duterte faithful politicians pleaded during the campaign for the 2019 parliamentary elections to also lower the age of penalties from 15 years to 12 years.

The conditions in the prisons are poor and the prisons contain considerably more prisoners than they were built for.

The prisoners also include minors, although children under the age of 15 must not be sentenced to prison. Most of the inmates are jailed while awaiting trial.

Arbitrary arrests are common. Both military and police and semi-military forces are accused by human rights organizations of being behind a series of extra-judicial executions, disappearances and torture. Among the victims are many left and environmental activists, union activists and peasant leaders. Most of the abuses occur in areas where NPA and Muslim separatists are active (see Leftist uprising and Muslim separatists).

The NPA, Muslim rebels and private armies are also guilty of serious abuse. According to human rights organizations, both leftist NPA and Muslim separatist organizations use child soldiers.

In many parts of the country, but mainly in Mindanao, there are right-wing militia, so-called vigilantes, who run their own law enforcement and murder criminals. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “death squads” have killed small criminals, drug addicts and street children without being punished for it.

Few people have been punished for these crimes.

Respect for human rights has deteriorated further since Duterte came to power in June 2017. This applies not least to the thousands of people who were killed as part of his war on drugs (see also Current Policy). According to official figures, about 6,600 drug addicts and drug addicts had been killed by police until July 2019. Police claimed that the victims had been shot to death when they resisted not being arrested. Other sources, such as the Human Rights Commission CHR, argued that the number of victims could be significantly more, up to 27,000, most of them murdered by death patrols. Later, even higher figures were mentioned. Several hundred police officers have also been killed in connection with police interventions. The congestion in prisons has also worsened since 2016, when tens of thousands of people are said to have surrendered to the authorities for fear that they would otherwise be killed.

In 2018, the ICC initiated a preliminary investigation of President Duterte to investigate whether he, through extrajudicial executions during the “drug war”, has committed a crime against humanity (see further Calendar). This led to the country formally leaving the court in March 2019. However, this did not mean that the ICC closed its investigation of Duterte and the crimes that had been committed on the day of departure. In July 2019, the UN Human Rights Council also decided to investigate the allegations of MR crime (see Calendar).

After the peace talks between the government and the Communist Party (CPP) and its armed branch NPA collapsed in 2017, Duterte has put the CPP / NPA on a list of terrorist organizations (see Left Uprising). In early 2018, the Justice Department, on the orders of President Duterte, turned to a regional court to have over 600 individuals labeled as terrorists. Among those singled out, in addition to CPP members, was the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, human rights activists, a congressman and several priests (see Calendar). In early 2019, however, all names except eight were deleted from the list.

Since the 1960s, a Muslim separatist uprising has been going on in the southern part of the country (see Muslim separatists). After an Islamist group linked to the Islamic State (IS) in 2017 occupied the city of Marawi in the south, there is a state of emergency on Mindanao, which has been extended several times.

Read more about the Philippines in UI’s publication Foreign magazine: Gilla Duterte or risk being attacked in social media (2018-10-16)

Philippines Crime Rate & Statistics