The detrimental effects of COVID-19 have been prevalent globally however, it is also observed to be contributing to the continuing democratic backslide in the Philippines. Through the guise of saving human lives, President Rodrigo Duterte dramatically expanded his executive as well as policing powers (Edgell 2021). Despite the enforcement of strict face masks and social distancing measures, the Philippines still ranks fourth on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Cases have surpassed a total of 2,837,903 as of January 2022 and reached 51,373 deaths, although the transparency of the data provided by the Department of Health (DOH) is criticized. In addition to this, last year several experts from the Citizens’ Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID) highlighted the serious weaknesses in the governments maneuvers during the COVID crises which resulted in an increase in infections amongst those living in poverty during their media briefing (Maru 2020).
One of the first responses of the government was the establishment of the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) which serves as the primary policy-making and executive body for COVID-19 and is comprised of former generals who have become cabinet members. (Makabenta 2020) described the IATF-EID as “the oddest task force to combat the pandemic, a squad full of soldiers without a single epidemiologist” in one of his journals. Furthermore, the mandatory lockdowns were concentrated in locations of high population density, commonly populated by the poor people living in urban areas (Hapal 2021). The situation deteriorated further when the government failed to allocate and distribute sufficient funds to the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), a program designed to aid those in poverty during the quarantine process of COVID-19. Essentially, due to the ineffectiveness of the initial strategies, the Philippine government shifted its approach to the pandemic to tactics centered on containment and harsh law enforcement methods. This was explicit when residents of Sitio San Roque (“San Roque 21”), Quezon City, for example, who gathered alongside Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) on April 1, 2020, after hearing that relief goods would be distributed, were among those detained. Several political analysts have compared President Duterte’s methods to combat the corona virus as ‘militarized or ‘police-centric” (Maru 2020).
There are a plethora of other examples of further democratic erosion as seen with the violation of Article 7 by participating in torture through means of public humiliation and forced confinement within coffins and dog cages (HRW 2021). Moreover, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was passed, echoing draconian tendencies to which United Nations (UN) Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet expressed concern that “The recent passage of the new Anti-Terrorism Act heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism”. The militant nature as a response to the pandemic combined with mobility restrictions as well as the infringement on freedom of press has had a polarizing effect on Filipino society. President Duterte’s six-year term has instilled a “us vs. them” mentality in the country’s society by intertwining populist messages with ambiguous labels like “communists,” “oligarchs,” and “biased media.”(Pangalangan 2022). This polarizing method is expected to be utilized by the President again in the next presidential elections of 2022 which is already occurring as declared by VERA Files Fact Check, a non-profit news organization which stated that more than a third of trending online posts were false news related to the future election. Much of the discredited news revolved around content which supported former President Bongbong Marcos or altered facts about his family, origins and crimes committed under his father’s administration. Hence, with the growing popularity and use of social media, the atmosphere of political polarization has transferred to the digital realm rather than the streets. The swift clean-up of all social media platforms particularly Twitter and Facebook must be emphasized in order for the public to come to their own opinions and judgements regarding the current governments administration.
Nevertheless, the upcoming elections in May 2022 could be a watershed moment for democracy in the Philippines if the country can band together with the help of non-governmental organizations to address the country’s ongoing issues with press freedom, as misinformation on social media has played a significant role in polarizing, distracting, and misleading Filipino voters. (Pangalangan 2022). To avoid further deterioration into authoritarianism, Filipino society must engage in critical thinking in order to distinguish between fake news and reality, as well as support and participate in various civil societies to invoke change and cease anymore backsliding in democracy.
- ABS-CBN News, and ABS-CBN News Davinci Maru. “’F As in Falfak’: Ph Gov’t Gets Failing Marks in Covid-19 Response from These Experts.” ABS, ABS-CBN News, 22 July 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/07/22/20/f-as-in-falfak-ph-govt-gets-failing-marks-in-covid-19-response-from-these-experts.
- ABS-CBN News, and ABS-CBN News Davinci Maru. “Philippines’ Coronavirus Cases Soar to 72,269 with 1,594 New Infections.” ABS, ABS-CBN News, 22 July 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/07/22/20/philippines-covid19-cases-coronavirus-update-july222020.
- August, Alexa, and Gelen Emil Turano. “About.” Democratic Erosion, 1 May 2021, https://www.democratic-erosion.com/2021/05/01/covid-19-and-how-it-aggravated-the-philippines-eroding-democracy/.
- Edgell, Amanda B, et al. “Pandemic Backsliding: Violations of Democratic Standards during Covid-19.” Social Science & Medicine (1982), The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd., Sept. 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8417367/.
- Makabenta, Yen. “The World’s Longest Lockdown, Oddest Task Force vs Covid-19.” The Manila Times, The Manila Times, 21 May 2020, https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/05/21/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/the-worlds-longest-lockdown-oddest-task-force-vs-covid-19/726169/.
- Pangalangan, Paco. “2022: An Inflection Point for Our Democracy.” Philstar.com, Philstar.com, 1 Jan. 2022, https://www.philstar.com/news-commentary/2022/01/01/2151234/2022-inflection-point-our-democracy.
- “Southeast Asia COVID-19 Tracker.” Southeast Asia Covid-19 Tracker | Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 Dec. 2021, https://www.csis.org/programs/southeast-asia-program/projects/southeast-asia-covid-19-tracker.
- Thelwell, Kim. “Social Amelioration Program (SAP).” The Borgen Project, Kim Thelwell Https://Borgenproject.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/The_Borgen_Project_Logo_small.Jpg, 3 June 2021, https://borgenproject.org/tag/social-amelioration-program-sap/.
- “World Report 2021: Rights Trends in Philippines.” Human Rights Watch, 13 Jan. 2021, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/philippines.