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Which PH institutions are holding fast?

/ 05:11 AM February 06, 2018

At the launch of the 2017-2018 Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project (WJP) in Washington, I joined a panel of speakers tasked to discuss some of its implications. That the Philippines had fallen the most, by 18 positions among the 113 countries polled, was “not unexpected” but still “a shock,” I said. It offers yet more quantitative proof of something I asserted at the World Justice Forum in the Netherlands last July: that the Duterte administration had weaponized the rule of law, and that this weapon has been turned on its own people.

The Index, now on its ninth edition, is based on a massive global survey that incorporates the findings of a General Population Poll (involving over 110,000 household respondents) and the views of over 3,000 legal experts. Because of its scope, the GPP of any given Index consists of a rolling schedule of surveys conducted either in the fall of the previous year or the summer of the current year. For the Philippine data, some 1,008 respondents were polled in late 2016 in three major cities: Manila, Cebu and Davao.

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The Philippines “saw the most significant drops” (per WJP) in four of the eight “factors” used to measure adherence to the rule of law: namely, constraints on government powers, fundamental rights, order and security and criminal justice. These are the very planks of the Duterte platform (the first two reflecting the drive to concentrate power and the unwritten policy of diminishing human rights and civil liberties). While these must be seen, in the words of forum moderator Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as a “moving away from peace, justice, and strong institutions,” I argued that, in the administration’s self-perception, these will be seen as a moving closer to justice and strong institutions. From its (perverted) perspective, lowering the age of criminal liability (to give one example) is not so much a human rights calamity as a recovery program on the road to becoming a stronger nation.

In my view, the crucial question Kleinfeld asked involved the subject of resistance. Which institutions were “pushing back” against this undermining of the rule of law? I made a distinction between institutions that are “holding fast” and institutions that are pushing back. (This week I’ll limit myself to the first.)

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The Philippine military is not anti-Duterte. It would be more precise to say it is not so much nonpolitical as it is antipolitics. In the second decade of the 21st century, the lessons of the second half of the 20th have finally taken firm root: A politicized military is a weaker military. Institutions designed to defend the Constitution should not undermine the constitutional order. The Armed Forces of the Philippines serves the people at all times, not the government temporarily in power (or at least not only). Professionalism should be the byword and benchmark of the armed services. It is by quietly insisting on this hard-won sense of professionalism that the AFP may be said to be holding fast, rather than pushing back.

One challenge for the military: While its leaders have categorically refused to take part in a revolutionary government, in part because it is plainly unconstitutional, they will have no choice if President Duterte, helped by his enablers in the Supreme Court, declares nationwide martial law: They will follow any orders with the semblance of constitutionality.

Another institution that has not pushed back but may be said to have held fast is the Catholic Church. Its collective approach to the Duterte administration’s signature antidrugs campaign can be described as calibrated: It has raised the alarm over extrajudicial killings, but it has not denied the rationale behind the campaign. In fact, it has stepped up its drug rehabilitation efforts.

Individual bishops have criticized the campaign and the killings that follow in its wake; the bishops as a whole have condemned the new culture of “fake news” and other forms of disinformation as immoral and irrational—but the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has not confronted the President directly for the violence against mostly poor Filipinos that the state inspires, instigates, or implements.

One challenge for the Church hierarchy: Even though the bishops have skillfully walked the tightrope between criticism and collaboration, the reality is that many government officials, and the entire Duterte support infrastructure, already see the Church as anti-Duterte. (To be continued)

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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TAGS: AFP, Catholic Church, john Nery, Newsstand, Rodrigo Duterte, Rule of Law Index, World Justice Forum, World Justice Project
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