PHILIPPINE rule of law has remained one of the weakest in East Asia and the Pacific, according to an annual survey of more than a hundred economies that showed the country’s score steadying from last year even as it rose in rank amid a global slide.
The WJP Rule of Law Index 2019 — which evaluates adherence to the rule of law based on more than 120,000 household and 3,800 expert surveys in 126 countries — showed the Philippines rising three steps to 90th place, even as its score stayed 0.47 on a 0 to 1 scale on which 1 indicates strongest adherence to rule of law. The scale describes any score up to 0.50 as reflecting “weaker adherence to the rule of law.”
The Philippines actually placed 88th out of 113 countries on the 2017-2018 list.
In a press release accompanying its report, the World Justice Project (WJP) explained “that this change in ranking was calculated by comparing the positions of the 113 countries measured in the 2017-2018 edition of the index with the rankings of the same 113 countries in 2019, exclusive of 13 new countries indexed in 2019.”
The Philippines’ score places it at 13th out of 15 countries in the East Asia and the Pacific (same as in 2017-2018) and 14th out of 30 among lower middle income countries (compared to 17th/30 previously).
The top three overall performers were Denmark, Norway and Finland, while the bottom three slots were occupied by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (124th), Cambodia (125th) and Venezuela (126th).
In East Asia and the Pacific, New Zealand (eighth globally), Australia (11th) and Singapore (13th) occupied first to third rungs, respectively, while the Philippines, Myanmar (110th) and Cambodia languished at the bottom.
Countries were assessed in 44 indicators grouped into eight primary rule of law factors, namely: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice.
The Philippines’ score per factor: worsened to 0.53 from 0.55 in the 2017-2018 survey in terms of “constraints on government powers”; was flat at 0.47 in terms of “absence of corruption”; improved slightly to 0.53 from 0.52 in terms of “open government”; was sustained at 0.42 in terms of “fundamental rights”; rose to 0.57 from 0.51 in terms of “order and security”; worsened to 0.47 from 0.51 in “regulatory enforcement”; slipped to 0.44 from 0.47 in “civil justice”; and stayed at 0.31 in terms of “criminal justice.”
Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra contested the description of Philippine rule of law as weak, asserting that law enforcement is a priority of the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte. “Tougher enforcement of the law is not equivalent to ‘weaker’ adherence to the rule of law. That’s precisely why we moved up three ranks overall,” Mr. Guevarra said in a mobile phone message. “(Strict enforcement of laws) has always been the standing order since day one.”
“The new WJP Rule of Law Index scores show that more countries declined than improved in overall rule of law performance for the second year in a row, continuing a negative slide toward weaker rule of law around the world,” the group said in its press release.
“In a sign suggesting rising authoritarianism, the factor score for ‘constraints on government powers’ declined in more countries than any other factor worldwide over the last year (61 countries declined, 23 stayed the same, 29 improved). This factor measures the extent to which, in practice, those who govern are bound by governmental and non-governmental checks such as an independent judiciary, a free press, the ability of legislatures to apply oversight and more,” it added.
“The second largest decline over last year was seen in the area of ‘criminal justice’, followed by ‘open government’ and ‘Fundamental Rights.’”
At the same time, WJP said, more countries improved in terms of “absence of corruption” than declined for the second year in a row. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas