By Lourdes O. Pilar

PHILIPPINE rule of law has remained one of the weakest in East Asia and the Pacific, according to an annual survey of the World Justice Project (WJP).

Where rule of law is strongest (or weakest)

The 2020 edition of WJP’s Rule of Law Index puts the Philippines at the 91st spot out of 128 countries globally, unchanged from the previous year. Its score was also unchanged at 0.47 on a 0 to 1 scale, where 1 indicates strongest adherence to the rule of law.

The score puts the Philippines at 13th out of 15 countries in East Asia and the Pacific (unchanged as in the previous year), and 13th out of 30 among lower-middle-income countries (compared to 14th previously).

WJP said the change in rankings “was calculated by comparing the 126 countries and jurisdictions measured in the 2019 index with the rankings of the same 126 countries and jurisdictions in 2020, exclusive of two new additions to the 2020 index [Kosovo and The Gambia].”

Denmark, Norway, and Finland were the top three overall performers, while the bottom three performers were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (126th), Cambodia (127th) and Venezuela (128th).

Meanwhile, New Zealand (seventh overall), Australia (11th), and Singapore (12th) were the top three countries with the highest rule of law scores in the East Asia and the Pacific region. On the other hand, the Philippines, Myanmar (112th), and Cambodia (127th) made up the region’s bottom three.

“More countries declined than improved in overall rule of law performance for a third year in a row, continuing a negative slide toward weakening and stagnating rule of law around the world. The majority of countries showing deteriorating rule of law in the 2020 Index also declined in the previous year, demonstrating a persistent downward trend,” the WJP said in its press release.

WJP also noted the Philippines as one of the countries with the largest average annual percentage drop in the rule of law over the last five years at 2.5%, along with Egypt (-4.6%), Venezuela (-3.9%), Cambodia (3%), Cameroon (-2.4%), Hungary (-2.1%), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (-2.1%).

Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said the Filipinos’ respect for the rule of law “remains very high” and is “certainly much higher than the score given by the WJP.”

“[W]e continue to faithfully observe and adhere to our constitution as our fundamental law; our courts are functioning as they should; the crime rate is going down; and our legal system is as vibrant as any in this part of the world,” Mr. Guevarra told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

“[H]owever, our structural challenges are numerous: lack of prosecutors, lack of judges, lack of resources relative to a huge population. Certain acts of violence have been sensationalized, and the existence of some misfits in law enforcement have attracted a lot of media attention, thus giving an unfair impression of widespread impunity and lack of respect for the law. While this may be true… at times, it is not, in my opinion, the general situation in our country,” he added.

In the WJP ranking, countries were assessed in 44 indicators that are, in turn, grouped into eight factors: constraints on government powers; absence of corruption; open government; fundamental rights; order and security; regulatory enforcement; civil justice; and criminal justice.

The Philippines’ score declined to 0.50 from 0.53 in the 2019 survey in terms of “constraints on government powers,” as well as that in “absence of corruption” (0.46 from 0.47); “open government” (0.52 from 0.53); and “fundamental rights” (0.41 from 0.42).

Meanwhile, the country saw improvement in its scores in “order and security” (0.65 from 0.60); “regulatory enforcement” (0.48 from 0.47); and “civil justice” (0.46 from 0.44).

Its score on “criminal justice” remained unchanged at 0.31.

The results of the 2020 WJP Rule of Index was based on more than 130,000 household and 4,000 expert surveys worldwide.