Under the six-year term of Duterte’s authoritarian-populist presidency in the Philippines, democracy has been threatened through the censorship of the media and human rights violations.
Executive aggrandizement and the strategic manipulation of elections have become two of the most prominent ways in which democratic erosion occurred in the Philippines. Executive aggrandizement occurs when there is a disassembling of the institutions that can possibly challenge the executive through formally legal channels. The strategic manipulation of elections occurs when there is tilting of the electoral playing field in favor of the incumbent, such as through the hampering of media access. Through the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, an authoritarian populist, he has challenged democratic values and limited the checks and balances traditionally placed on his power through formally legal channels.
President Duterte poses a threat to democracy in the Philippines through his populist governance, the denial of a legitimate opposition, and his lack of accountability. Populism takes a strong hold in the Philippines because of the weak party system involving a multiparty political system wherein citizens tend to switch parties for their own personal gains. In addition to this, authoritarian politicians reject the democratic rules of the game, deny the legitimacy of their opponents, tolerate or encourage violence, and indicate a willingness to curtail civil liberties of their opponents. They view their opponents as “enemies” and not as part of “the people.”
Censorship of the Media and Human Rights Violation
Duterte’s censorship of the media is one of the main ways in which he attempts to disassemble institutions that might challenge his power. ABS-CBN, a leading major news broadcaster, was shut down after a committee in the House of Representatives, most of whom were allied with Duterte, rejected their application for the renewal of their broadcast license. This caused major controversy as Duterte had accused the news broadcaster of bias, especially regarding the 2016 Presidential Elections where they had favored his political opponent. In addition to this, they have been at the front line of coverage of his violent drug war. Duterte has also targeted other news outlets such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer for maintaining a kill list, or record of drug war victims from his violent war on drugs. He cursed at the newspaper owners who later announced that they sold their newspaper to a wealthy businessman that was a close friend of Duterte.
Through the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill, President Duterte was able to reduce the checks and balances placed on him by the media by being able to jail opponents of his administration. The bill defines terrorism broadly and allows for various, vague motives to put opponents in jail, as well as the legalization of excessive force against citizens. This is not the first time that Duterte has threatened democracy through the violation of human rights. His promise to rid the Philippines of drug dealers and users has led to the large-scale extrajudicial deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos. Despite this, however, Duterte continues to have high ratings amongst Filipino citizens.
What Must be Done
In order to prevent democratic erosion, political elites must prevent populists from being on the mainstream party tickets, refuse to endorse or align with them, and ally with rivals who are in support of democratic candidates. However, with the daughter of President Duterte running for vice president candidacy, Duterte’s legacy may continue even despite the end of his term. We must continue to advocate for democracy in order to protect the people and the institutions that serve to be a protection for our freedoms.