Six years ago, Duterte campaigned for his “war on drugs” and up to date, almost 12,000 have been killed in the impoverished urban areas of the Philippines. In another context, human rights activists are being arrested, worse, killed for being wrongfully convicted as terrorists. The horrors of extrajudicial killings, arrests of journalists, shut down of media institutions, and red-tagging continue to pose threat to the already dysfunctional democracy of the Philippines.
But how did we arrive in this horrific situation and instability of democracy? Have we really achieved democracy in the first place? Are we governed by democratically elected incumbents or we have been slowly transitioning to authoritarianism since the onset of 2016?
A Quick History to PH Democracy
A country is considered democratic if it holds fair and free elections if there is an existence of multi-party elections and an alternation in government power. With a large number of Filipinos voting freely since the year 1906, the Philippines is one of the Southeast Asian countries to have successfully topple authoritarian rule and transition into democracy. Albeit the establishment of several democratic campaigns and institutions, the Philippine democracy remains relatively weak and unstable. One remarkable characteristic of democracy is having the political power to overthrow politicians when they start exhibiting authoritarian practices. In a democratically stable government, the voters have the ability to vote them out of office. In spite of being one of Asia’s oldest holders of democracy, several dynasties that ruled the country made a sham of it. It explains why Filipinos distrust constitutional procedures in curbing corrupt and incompetent politicians and why we have been the talks of the international arena for our revolutionary actions and protests.
Let’s take a few steps back from when the Philippines regained its democracy under the dictator rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Hailed as the People Power President, Corazon Aquino sparked the support of civil society organizations and the masses to bring back institutional reforms and regime change after the gruesome dictator rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. But why is the Philippines, in spite of being a democratic country, still mired with defiant challenges that further erodes its democracy? Bringing down an authoritarian rule does not guarantee a stable democracy. In fact, nothing much has changed after the restoration of democracy. Entrenched corruption and the pervading poverty alongside disenfranchised poor populations are still prevalent in the Philippines.
The assumption into the presidential office of Corazon Aquino did restore democracy but criticisms arose regarding her legitimacy to rule the nation. Her administration was characterized for having good intentions but highly criticized for her indecisive governing style. Corruption and cronyism were prevalent and there was an inability to respond to the basic services under her regime. Did the Philippines really restore democracy and successfully change the regime? Fast track to the time of his son’s presidency, President Noynoy Aquino’s administration was also best with problems in upholding and deepening democratic principles.
Democracy under Noynoy Aquino’s administration was confronted with weak leadership that failed the potentiality of institutional-building reforms that could’ve strengthened the political institutions necessary for democratic deepening. Mr. Aquino was also caught in criticisms when he chose friendship over professionalism that culminated in the Mamasapano tragedy. These situations have illustrated how the predecessors of Duterte have failed to deepen the roots of the Philippine democracy that made it vulnerable to the gradual authoritarianism of the Duterte administration. Duterte surely made a smooth and popular appearance in the 2016 elections with his popular rhetoric on establishing a disciplined police institution that will protect citizens against abuses and hunt down criminals — drug criminals.
Authoritarian Storm: PRRD
The infamous rise of Duterte into the presidential office of the Philippines has brought more problems than solutions. His presidency can be characterized by contentious strategies that have marred the Philippine democracy —and we are now sliding backward. We are now on the brink of democratic erosion that Ellen Lust characterized as erosion of civil liberties coupled with the weakening of checks and balances, restrained press freedoms, decreased liberties, loss of accountability, abuse of democratic institutions, and intimidation of oppositions. President Rodrigo Duterte is subtly increasing threats against the Philippine democracy and his leadership is highly criticized because of its notorious disinformation and fake news. Soon enough, the sovereign state will slowly revert to authoritarianism and it will be a costly attack. With massive killings from his anti-drug campaign, President Duterte has legitimized the killings thousands of Filipinos who are mostly wrongfully convicted as drug dealers. The President has found and deployed powerful ways to deploy political power that are coercive but implemented through formal mechanisms. Moreover, the Philippines is suffering from a lack of information on the political performance of its political leaders, undermining the ability of the citizens to hold these politicians accountable. The gravity of his stealth authoritarianism is also raving. His government has strengthened libel laws that convicted and jailed journalists, shut down media institutions that are highly critical of him, and convict his political opponents and critics — all done through legal means.
Popularized by his iron-fisted governing tactic, we cannot deny that the Philippine democracy is undergoing a subtle but vicious erosion under the hands of President Duterte. In spite of the criticisms and condemnations against his presidency that have proliferated for the past 5 years, his allies and supporters continue to initiate campaigns, countering criticisms and voicing out their inclinations towards the President. This is a clear manifestation of how citizens play a role in democratic backsliding. The Philippines is slowly rising to political polarization that, according to Svolik, weakens the public’s ability to curb the authoritarian inclinations of the elected officials. Another important analysis is how democratic Filipino citizens are in an electoral crisis of supporting politicians who undermine democracy. In Slovik’s article, voters would rather elect incumbents who are authoritarian just because their partisan interests are championed by their chosen electorates. This is manifested in the Philippine context and it explains the number of supporters that Duterte has in spite of his unjust authoritarianism.
It is important to bear in mind that even though polarization is still present in the Philippines with the continuous widening of support for each political party, several issues remained unsolved. And this is a more pressing issue to be concerned about. The increasing cases of extrajudicial killings, accountability and transparency issues, disinformation and fake news, and red-tagging of activists illustrate the gradual erosion of Philippine democracy. We must act now not just by being armed with our democratic principles but persuading the government and the opposition to provide alternative solutions. It is about time to not let our political leaders get away with their maligned practices and hold them accountable. We are neither red nor yellow, we are Pro-Filipino.