Philippine rule of law remains one of Asia’s weakest

RULE OF LAW in the Philippines remains one of the weakest in East Asia and the Pacific, according to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2021. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Bianca Angelica D. Anago, Reporter

RULE OF LAW in the Philippines remains one of the weakest in East Asia and the Pacific, as the country’s ranking slipped three spots in the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2021.

The WJP Rule of Law Index, which is based on surveys of more than 138,000 household and 4,200 experts in 139 countries, showed the Philippines fell to the 102nd spot this year.

The Philippines’ score also dropped by 2.9% in this year’s index to 0.46 on a zero to one scale. A score of one indicates the strongest adherence to the rule of law.

The score placed the Philippines at 13th out of 15 countries in the East Asia and the Pacific region, unchanged from the previous index and ahead only of Myanmar and Cambodia.

The country slumped to 18th out of the 35 lower-middle income countries, from 13th last year.

“Significant trends for the Philippines included a deterioration in the factor measuring order and security,” the WJP said.

For order and security, the Philippines ranked 110th with a score of 0.63 from 0.65, previously. The Philippines placed 120th in the factors measuring criminal justice with a 0.31 score, and 123rd for fundamental rights with a score of 0.39.

On the other hand, the country stood at 71st place with a 0.50 score in the factor measuring open government, and 77th spot with a 0.44 score for “absence of corruption.”

Topping the WJP Rule of Law Index are Denmark, Norway, and Finland, the same as last year.

On the other hand, the Congo Democratic Republic, Cambodia, and Venezuela, remained in the bottom three.

For the East Asia and the Pacific region, the top three countries in the index are New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. Japan replaced Singapore as one of the region’s top three countries last year. Singapore slid to fourth place this year.

The WJP said this year’s index showed more countries declined in overall rule of law performance for the fourth straight year.

“With negative trends in so many countries, this year’s WJP Rule of Law Index should be a wakeup call for us all. Rule of law is the very foundation of communities of justice, opportunity and peace. Reinforcing that foundation should be a top priority for the coming period of recovery from the pandemic,” WJP Co-Founder and CEO Bill Neukom was quoted as saying in the statement.

The Philippine’s overall position in the WSJ Rule of Law index has steadily declined since 2015 when it ranked 51st, dropping to 70th in 2016. It ranked 88th in 2017 and 2018, and 89th in 2019.

Asked to comment on the country’s drop in ranking, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said in a mobile message that the general crime rate “has been on a downtrend, and that our law enforcement, prosecutorial, and judicial institutions, while not perfect like all other human institutions, are nevertheless functioning as they should.”

In a mobile message, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Professor Marlon M. Villarin said the decline in the Rule of Law Index is likely to continue “until the government would be able to resolve…all issues pertaining to abuses committed by government agents on the implementation of (President Rodrigo R.) Duterte’s war on drugs.”

A 2020 report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated that there have been more than 8,000 deaths related to the drug war since it started in July 2016.

Last month, the International Criminal Court announced that it will open a full investigation into the Philippines’ war on drugs and the alleged Davao Death Squad.

University of the Philippines Political Science Professor Maria Ela L. Atienza added that illegal drugs remain a problem in the country, hence there is a “continuing dominance of (Mr. Duterte) and the Executive branch vis-a-vis the legislature and the judiciary instead of the checks and balances principle being observed, continuing cases of graft and corruption, and threats to freedom of speech, assembly and the press.”

National Union of Peoples Lawyers President Edre U. Olalia in a phone interview said this result is “both a wakeup call and a sad commentary on the state of rule of law in our country.”

“The fact that the Philippines, in the index, failed in fundamental rights and criminal justice system means that there is something terribly wrong, (and) this does not give any comfort in the public’s confidence in the justice system,” he added.