How the Rule of Law Limits Freedom in the Philippines

law-book-gavelFreedom House undertakes to survey 185 nations around the world once a year to see how they are doing in terms of freedom, where freedom is broken into two categories, Political Rights and Civil Liberties. Advocacy groups and businessmen use the information, the former to raise a voice of complaint to instigate social change, the latter to help figure out where to safely invest money.

In that regard, it is a big deal, because, for nations like the Philippines which want more foreign investment, they can discover why they are not getting it. Freedom House placed the Philippines in the “Partly Free” category in its 2014 worldwide ratings. From that, we can comprehend why foreign investment does not flow easily to the Philippines. The Philippines scores poorly in the category “Rule of Law”, and what conservative business wants to invest in a lawless society?

Here is a table of comparatives on the various categories rated. It shows the maximum score possible in each category, the Philippine score, and that of China, the US, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea:

Max Phil China USA Maly Japan SKor
A: Electoral Process 12 9 0 11 6 12 11
B: Political Pluralism & Participation 16 10 1 16 7 13 14
C: Functioning of Government 12 7 2 10 6 9 10
D: Freedom of Expression & Belief 16 14 4 15 8 15 14
E: Associational & Organizational Rights 12 8 3 11 6 9 11
F: Rule of Law 16 5 2 14 5 6 13
G: Personal Autonomy & Individual Rights 16 10 6 15 9 10 12

Well, there is a lot of good news there for the Philippines. Comparatively speaking, Filipinos have more freedom than the Chinese or Malaysians. Also, freedom of expression is a strength, and the country gets a solid score for political pluralism and for individual rights.

The bad news is that blasted rule of law, which so many Filipinos ignore, Justice fails to enforce and judges are incapable of administering.

Let’s explore why the Philippines does poorly. We don’t have the country detail on how Freedom House answers these questions, but I’ve penciled in my own thoughts. You are encouraged to pencil in your thoughts, too . . . and even share them in the comments section.

Here are the questions that make up the evaluation, with JoeAm’s personal notation in italics:

F.         RULE OF LAW (0–16 points)

               1.         Is there an independent judiciary?

  • Is the judiciary subject to interference from the executive branch of government or from other political, economic, or religious influences? (JA: Executive branch appoints supreme court judges but does not ordinarily interfere in routine court matters. The Corona impeachment was an exception aimed at ending the culture of corruption within the courts. Essentially, I suppose it could be viewed as an “unfree” moment aimed at improving freedom.)
  • Are judges appointed and dismissed in a fair and unbiased manner? (JA: Are they ever dismissed? Appointments are often based on reasons other than capability. Political favorites, for example.) 
  • Do judges rule fairly and impartially, or do they commonly render verdicts that favor the government or particular interests, whether in return for bribes or other reasons? (JA: They favor particular interests, for bribes and other reasons.)
  • Do executive, legislative, and other governmental authorities comply with judicial decisions, and are these decisions effectively enforced? (JA: Yes, other government authorities comply with court rulings, and under President Aquino, enforcement is getting a lot tougher. Still, there is a lot of corruption down the line at lower government slots.)
  • Do powerful private concerns comply with judicial decisions, and are decisions that run counter to the interests of powerful actors effectively enforced? (JA: Powerful private concerns comply with big decisions but minor players ignore them. There is no broad enforcement mechanisms. Take the recent law about domestic employees. Who is enforcing that?)

2.         Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters?  Are police under direct civilian control?

  • Are defendants’ rights, including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, protected? (JA: No. Accusation often means jail time without much due process if bail is not permitted. Charged people remain in jail for years and may simply be political prisoners. Arroyo for instance.)
  • Are detainees provided access to independent, competent legal counsel? (JA: Independent, yes, if you have the money. If no money, tough luck. Are attorneys competent? Questionable.)
  • Are defendants given a fair, public, and timely hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal? (JA: Absolutely not. It is public if it is a big case. Otherwise there is a high likelihood it is buried, is not fair, for sure is not timely, and is not judged by competent or impartial tribunal.)
  • Are prosecutors independent of political control and influence? (JA: No.)
  • Are prosecutors independent of powerful private interests, whether legal or illegal? (JA: No.)
  • Is there effective and democratic civilian state control of law enforcement officials through the judicial, legislative, and executive branches? (JA: No. Corruption abounds. Favoritism is rife.)
  • Are law enforcement officials free from the influence of nonstate actors, including organized crime, powerful commercial interests, or other groups? (JA: Some are, too many are not. Smuggling, child trafficking, drug peddling, extortion . . . so many crimes, so little enforcement.)

3.         Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?

  • Do law enforcement officials make arbitrary arrests and detentions without warrants or fabricate or plant evidence on suspects? (JA: Not routinely, but way too often.)
  • Do law enforcement officials beat detainees during arrest and interrogation or use excessive force or torture to extract confessions? (JA: Not routinely, but way too often.)
  • Are conditions in pretrial facilities and prisons humane and respectful of the human dignity of inmates? (JA: only if you are rich and powerful.)
  • Do citizens have the means of effective petition and redress when their rights are violated by state authorities? (JA: Not unless they have enough money to buy influence.)
  • Is violent crime either against specific groups or within the general population widespread? (JA: Yes, journalists, for example, are murdered with impunity.)
  • Is the population subjected to physical harm, forced removal, or other acts of violence or terror due to civil conflict or war? (JA: Yes, in areas infested by NPA gangsters or Muslim rebels. Progress is being made to settle Muslim unrest.)

4.         Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?

  • Are members of various distinct groups—including ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTI people, and the disabled—able to exercise effectively their human rights with full equality before the law? (JA: No, there are no gay rights, divorce is not allowed, children are often used for labor or sex-for-money, and health remedies for woman are suppressed.)
  • Is violence against such groups widespread, and if so, are perpetrators brought to justice? (JA: there is a lot of domestic violence that is not addressed; plus child labor and trafficking is a huge problem.)
  • Do members of such groups face legal and/or de facto discrimination in areas including employment, education, and housing because of their identification with a particular group? (JA: Women do fine in the workplace, and gays, too, I suspect, because Filipino PEOPLE respect other Filipinos; but religious institutions do not.)
  • Do women enjoy full equality in law and in practice as compared to men? (JA: Pretty much, yes.)
  • Do noncitizens—including migrant workers and noncitizen immigrants—enjoy basic internationally recognized human rights, including the right not to be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment, the right to due process of law, and the rights of freedom of association, expression, and religion? (JA: Foreigners don’t come here to work because there are no jobs, so there is no discrimination or ill-treatment and it is a non-issue.)
  • Do the country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and other regional treaties regarding refugees? Has the government established a system for providing protection to refugees, including against refoulement (the return of persons to a country where there is reason to believe they fear persecution)? (JA: I have no idea but think it is possible to hide out in the Philippines forever without being refouled ahahahaha. The lawmen can’t even find big-name governors and generals on the lam.)

Essentially, the rule of law is a complement to freedom if it establishes fair, impartial rules that allow us to interact in society without being harmed, and it gives us the means to redress harms done as we exercise our right to freedom and safety.

The Freedom House checklist shows exactly how our freedoms are constrained by the Philippine Rule of Law. Powerful people can use and abuse the system with little fear of punishment, for they can influence the justice and judicial process by legalistic game-playing or buying a “get out of jail” free card. But the rest of us are not really protected by the system.

One problem is that much of the case law library of the Philippines has been built on political decisions or decisions based on favoritism and money, rather than legal interpretation flowing down from the Constitution. So that case law has to be rebuilt.

But the four big, practical issues are: (1) justice being an operating arm of the executive branch and not really independent and impartial, (2) lack of access to legal remedies for any but the wealthy; corruption and bias in the courtroom, (3) an outrageously slow pace of case resolution, as “speedy” does not seem to be a part of the vocabulary of justice, and (4) constraints imposed by laws that respect the overwhelming influence of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, whether that influence is good or bad for human rights and freedom.

How do these matters limit freedom?

Political Direction of the Prosecution

Without question, the Justice Department exercises the will of the President. He sets the priorities, aims the hunt, and agrees to the legal solutions. We are fortunate that the aim is generally good right now, toward a clean-up of corruption, but one has to be concerned about the pattern of “using” the prosecution to satisfy political aims. Indeed, one suspects that corruption is rampant because prior presidents have provided direction NOT to pursue certain cases.

Justice needs to stand apart from politics, for politics is not a just business. It is a business of favor and influence.

The arbitrary exercise of power, whether for good or bad, establishes the Philippines as a place to be wary of, for businessmen, for one can never know when the rule of law will be twisted to undermine one’s investment.

Lack of Access; Justice is for the Empowered

Freedom is constrained when law enforcement coddles the rich and famous and the courts are ruled by the rich and powerful. Journalists get murdered. Vigilante groups roam Davao, Cebu and perhaps other places with impunity. Security guards get fired for following the rules and barring entry to a housing development by someone of power. A company owned by a rich guy sets up shop in a residential area and pollutes the place. The neighbor is cooking meth, or peddling kids.

If you don’t have a way to get the police on your side, or the courts on your side, the prudent thing to do is keep quiet.

And that is what too many people in the Philippines are free to do. Keep quiet.

It is a culture of intimidation, really. Of fear.

And no prudent, honest overseas businessman wants to put his capital into such an unpredictable situation.

Slow Pace of Justice

Similarly, time is money to a businessman, and to have one’s interests tied up in legal bickering for years means one can never earn a decent return on the investment. Ask mining companies, whose operations have stopped pending new legislation. They are pulling out of the Philippines.

The same penalty is applied to individuals who are presumed guilty upon arrest and put in a cell without much recourse. Like former President Arroyo, or any poor Jose who does not have the money or means to contest an arrest.

Time works against justice because witnesses die or their memory becomes clouded. Investigators or attorneys move on to other cases and the new people simply don’t have the same involvement or insight into the case. The media forget about the case. The punishment is never connected immediately to the crime. Justice, so important to our sense of freedom, dies day by passing day.

The courts should be almost desperate for a quick pace of case resolution. But they are all busy pending everything for every nit-picking reason imaginable. If the reason is insufficient funding and staffing of investigative or legal work, or courtrooms, then that funding needs to be provided. Justice is core to a nation’s well-being.

Influence of the Catholic Church

Some of the values of the Catholic Church run in conflict to modern understandings of freedom that pertain to human rights. Homosexuality is condemned. Women are not allowed to become priests. Divorce is not allowed, holding spouses in bondage to abusive or philandering partners. The battle between “right to life” and “freedom of choice” is resolved by restricting a woman’s freedom to manage her own body. So the Philippines gets dinged on human rights.

There are two forces moving to change this, but they work slowly: (1) Pope Francis is advancing the notion of compassion over condemnation (one wonders if the CBCP political bishops are listening), and (2) some Filipino legislators – predominantly women – are pushing for secular rights, as evidenced by the passage of the RH Bill.

What is the time frame for a law permitting divorce? Peg that and you probably have a good understanding of when the Philippines becomes free in the modern sense of human rights, over Catholic values. I peg it at 10 years. So in 2024, the Philippines will record a higher score on the Freedom House survey.

What to Do, What to Do

The leadership of the nation is smart enough to know that Philippine justice and judiciary are substandard. President Aquino’s exercise of his considerable will to unseat Chief Justice Corona reflects this understanding. Things have to change.

Chief Justice Sereno is working for better values in the courts. Speedier resolutions, ending judicial corruption. But she is handicapped, as is the President, by criticism from those with vested interest in NOT CHANGING. She has also asked for additional funding from Executive to get the courts unplugged.

What’s the choice? She must continue her initiatives, and we should support her and urge her on. And diminish her critics as obstructionists. And increase funding.

But how do you get politics out of the justice system, or the vigilante approach some mayors take, or the election-cycle shootings, or shooting of journalists, or gangsters like the NPA? It is overwhelming. When police take payments to exercise selective prosecution, we have a problem. When judges can be bought, we have a problem.

Here are a few ideas, although I fear it is rather like fish swimming upriver and finding a dam:

  • New law is required to insulate the Justice Department from Executive engagement in policies and priorities and case strategy. I’m not sure how that law should be written. But justice ought not be politically determined.
  • Remove money from the courts. Fund the courts through national taxes, not locally originated fees of ANY kind. Continue to open the doors of the courts to ordinary people through such vehicles as the small-claims court and court-appointed attorneys for the poor.
  • Witness protections must be extended to local communities, for the neighbor who reveals a meth lab next door, or child trafficking, or spousal abuse.
  • Time must be considered crucial for fair case rendition. Judges must control the calendar, not plaintiffs or defendants.
  • Legislators must look more to international standards of human rights for guidance on lawmaking, and less to narrow interests like the Catholic Church.

The Philippines will always be considered a lawless land as long as it is a lawless land. We are not free if we are afraid, if the police can’t protect us, if we have no way to correct wrongs, or if we are at the mercy of the empowered and the special interests.

Getting foreign business investment here will likely continue to be a struggle. It’s a risky nation in which to place one’s money, frankly.

And other nations will continue to look askance at the Philippines for the lack of discipline a weak rule of law represents.

Those are the unfortunate conclusions I take from the Freedom House evaluation.

31 Responses to “How the Rule of Law Limits Freedom in the Philippines”
  1. Dee says:

    I am watching the State of the Union while reading this. Lots of things running through my mind.

    A lot of grease is needed to get the Philippines wheel of justice to run faster. I agree that the judge alone should dictate the time frame of cases brought to his/her court. Every docket should have a schedule that the plaintiff, defendant and their lawyers need to adhere to. This schedule should spell out dates from discovery to judgement. Yes, some delays maybe inevitable but a case should not be in a pending status for 20-40 years.

    • Joe America says:

      I think that speech is a “must see” for every Filipino, or a must read in any language. One should approach it looking for the following themes: How America is driven by (1) opportunity, (2) high values, (3) hard work, and (4) a sense of responsibility to the point of sacrifice. There is a reason the audience poured there collective heart out to Sergeant Cory. That was not an expression of pity. It was an expression of what he represents, in an ultimate way, their own heartfelt dedication to what America stands for, in the ideal. It was a brilliant speech.

      • Dee says:

        “My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen. The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.

        Believe it.”

        ~SOTU, 01/28/2014, US President Barack Obama

        If we could bottle and patent the essence of America, we’ll be rich beyond dreams.

        You are the marketing man so I am seeking your wisdom in how Philippines could be marketed to its people. What historical point/person/document could be used to rally them together towards the common goal of justice, fairness, equality and prosperity?

        • Joe America says:

          Wow. I think I would not select any one historical point or person, not even Dr. Rizal. I would choose to describe the riches and burdens of our diversity and history, and rally around the need for us to hold precious the differences in others. That eventually works its way around to fairness and equality and the platform for prosperity.

          • Dee says:

            You’re right about the marketing subject and the rallying point.
            I am trying to translate your recent blog about President Aquino to Tagalog. I’ll send it to you when it’s done so you and your wife can critique and correct it. It is yours so you can do what you want with it. I am rather slow though. I am using it to practice my language skills. Thought it is a win-win, you got an article translated and I got something to work on.

            • Joe America says:

              I’m sure that is a challenge, as I tend to let words fly in strange combinations. A good project though, seems to me.

              • Dee says:

                It needs proofreading and editing. I used to translate technical manuals but had not done that in a while. I just thought that if the article could be published in a medium where it can reach a wider local audience, it could lead to more intelligent and thoughtful materials for all Filipinos.

              • Joe America says:

                I’m working on your article redraft. When I put on Word Press the spacing got messed up, so I have to put it back together again. My idea is to publish it with a request for further edits. I’m amazed at what you’ve done on it. Probably publish tomorrow or Tuesday.

        • edgar lores says:


          This is my attempt to define the Filipino Dream. I have tried to keep it simple.

          “The Filipino Dream is to have a place in the sun.
          It is to live in a classless society where there is equality, freedom and friendship, with opportunity and justice for all.”

          The first sentence operates at the literal, figurative and symbolic levels. At the literal level, the idiom “a place in the sun” means to have a space of one’s own. It also describes the equatorial location of the country.

          At the figurative level, the idiom connotes, among other things, (a) a home as well as (b) social recognition. I like the fact, in relation to OFWs, that a home can be found anywhere. At a deeper level, the idiom implies equality of opportunity and the virtue of honest labor within the ideal of social justice.

          At the symbolic level, the phrase “in the sun” directly points to the golden sun in the national flag which waves above our heads. It gives the aspiration a grandness and a nebulousness that it deserves.

          In the second sentence, I am not too sure about “classless” as that invites the derision of “no class” and is tautological with “equality”. Perhaps that should simply read “to live in a society of equality, etc.”

          Equality and freedom are universal aspirations with Franco-American origins, while friendship, opportunity and justice may be, partly and wholly, uniquely Filipino.

          Friendship has conceptual links with the French fraternite and the Australian mateship. It may be omitted, but I have included it to address the central problem of the lack of national cohesion, and for its association with the bayanihan spirit. It is grouped with the universal ideals because the qualifying prepositional phrase “for all” cannot apply. And indeed friendship is not only an ideal but a reality as attested to by the easy camaraderie of Filipinos abroad and on social media. I prefer the term over fraternity perhaps because of the undertones of sexism in the latter.

          The ideal of opportunity supports the fulfillment of the grand aspiration. And the stress of legal justice at the end completes and fulfills the circle that starts with social justice at the beginning.

          In Tagalog – which I, being a non-Ilokano-speaking Ilokano, must confess is not my best suit or even a suit that I own – it would go something like this:

          “Ang Pangarap ng Pilipino ay magkaroon ng sapat na pamumuhay sa ilalim ng araw.
          Ang pangarap na ito ay mamuhay sa isang lipunan na may pagkakapantay-pantay, kalayaan at pagkakisa, kasama na dito ang oportunidad at katarungan para sa lahat.”

          In Tagalog I think the soupcon of honest labor and social justice in the phrase “sapat na pamumuhay” is more explicit than in English. However in not using a literal translation of “place”, the association with home and social recognition may have been lost. Perhaps “lugar” (or “puwesto”?) should be inserted before “at pamumuhay”? Also, I worry that the idiomatic expression may not have the same connotations in Tagalog.

          In the second sentence, I just realized that equality does not have a Tagalog equivalent except for the awkward and multisyllabic “pagkakapantay-pantay”. I wanted to use “pagkakataon” instead of “oportunidad”. However, to me the former smacks a little of the chance to take advantage. Perhaps the suggested “oportunidad” is better as it would also incorporate and be reflective of our Spanish heritage? This would be the sole Spanish element.

          Note that most of these aspirations are contained and represented in the national flag. Equality and friendship (fraternity) are symbolized in the white equilateral triangle. Justice is in the horizontal blue stripe. And the eight-rayed golden sun symbolizes, among other things, freedom and unity. Only opportunity is unrepresented. But we can always add that to the golden sun in line with the saying “make hay while the sun shines!”

          Final thoughts: I would leave the English version as is except for the removal of “classless”. In the Tagalog version I would insert “lugar” before “at pamumuhay”.

          • edgar lores says:

            Just an added thought. When I say “equality of opportunity” that is because the sun shines on everyone!

          • Dee says:

            “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

            —Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

            I like your version of Filipino Dream.
            Taking your cue, I have this draft:

            “Ang Pangarap ng Pilipino ay ang magkaroon ng sapat na kabuhayan sa araw-araw.
            Ang pangarap na ito ay ang buhay sa ating lipunan na may mamamayang pantay-pantay, walang maliw na kalayaan, malaganap na pagkaka-isa at bayanihan, masaganang oportunidad at mabilis na katarungan para sa lahat.”

            The concept of equality is already there but the citizenry are not equal. Filipinos have freedom but it waxes and wanes and disappears with martial law. There are pockets of solidarity, but not widespread enough to affect the nation positively. Opportunities are present but they are few and hard to attain. There is a mechanism for justice but it needs speeding up.

            Yes, some idioms do not have Filipino equivalents so it is challenging to translate them without losing their nuance. I think though that when you are translating from English to Filipino, it is important to reach the readers so literal transliteration could be dicey. A lot of a language’s essence could be lost in translation.

            I like your symbolism angle. I know there are concepts that are universal such as freedom, opportunity, justice, fairness, and equality but won’t we be ridiculed for being copycats of western ideals? Let’s brainstorm some more about the unique features of the Filipino culture and inject those in the Filipino Dream.

            • edgar lores says:

              Thanks, Dee.

              1. Verdict: Fail. Shucks.

              2. I love your version of the second sentence. It is poetry.
              2.1. I am not worried about being a copycat. Universals are universals, and only need to be translated properly. The Australian concept of mateship is nothing but fraternity. The concept of a fair go is nothing but opportunity.
              2.2. You have injected bayanihan which is good.
              2.3. The only other collective attribute I can think of that Filipinos have in abundance, that can be vaguely classified as positive, is faith (tiwala, pagtitiwala, pananalig, pananam-palataya). (From where I stand, it is a negative attribute, but I am – cough, cough – atypical.)

              3. Going back to the first sentence.
              3.1. An apt translation of your version would be: “The Filipino Dream is to have a comfortable daily life”.

              3.2. From the viewpoint of the Australian Dream of having a house, that aspiration is acceptable. However, from the viewpoint of the American Dream, it is drab. It lacks grandeur because the nuances of “in the sun” have been lost.
              3.2.1. But perhaps it is in keeping with Filipinos who generally have “low” standards. And is it really low? I recall that Prime Minister John Howard expressed the wish that he would be judged at the end of his term by his ability to have made Aussies comfortable. (Alas, he saw invisible WMDs in Iraq and joined the coalition of the willing.)

              3.3. That the nuances have been lost does not ultimately matter. I think my mind just loves to impute significance where perhaps there is none. But, really, the importance of the dream – the raison d’etre – is for it to resonate with almost everyone, to touch the psychic center.
              3.3.1. The Australian Dream resonates with the Oz “battler”, the equivalent of the common tao. It does resonate with the rich in the sense that a house does not have to be sheltering shack, that it can be a castle.
              3.3.2. The American Dream of momentarily being at the top of the pinnacle resonates with everyone, rich or poor, male or female, straight or crooked.

              3.4. I know you retained “araw-araw” to link to the original concept but, if the idiom does not translate, it is unnecessary.

              3.5. Does “sapat na kabuhayan” (comfortable life) resonate with the wealthy? Have we hit the bullseye? Hmmm…

              • Dee says:

                Nah. You did good. I just took your idea and tweaked it. The credit goes to you, 100%.

                Pffffft to the wealthy. They can buy their dreams. This is for the 99%. 🙂

                I do not know if religion should be even there. It seems like Filipinos need less of it, not more. There should be a separation of church and state. I have a theory that the Philippines inertia is at stand still because Filipinos are waiting for Divine Intervention instead of creating a positive mass and applying positive force to it.

                It is a work in progress for sure, maybe we can write about the difficulty of writing the Filipino Dream not only because of the diversity but also because of the unique traits of the Filipino population.

              • edgar lores says:


                I’ve just had a brainwave.

                1. Instead of “sapat na kabuhayan” why not “sariling kabuhayan”?

                “Ang Pangarap ng Pilipino ay magkaroon ng sariling kabuhayan.”

                2. I think “sarili” makes a big difference. It echoes egoic possession: “Akin ito!”; “Atin ito!”; “Sarili natin!”.

                3. “Kabuhayan” – please correct me here – not only refers to life but can also refer to the means to life and the character of that life. It’s life, livelihood and life quality.
                3.1. For the rural poor, it means a plot of land. For the urban poor, it means a job. For both, it means a house and a comfortable existence.
                3.2. For the rich, who have a comfortable existence, it may mean a business, a high position in private or public life.
                3.3. For both rich and poor, it means having most or all of the paraphernalia of modern life – a vehicle, white goods, a hi-fi, a computer, and the indispensable cellphone.

                4. The English translation of “a place in the sun”, with all its nuances, can be retained because of the use of the word “sarili”?

  2. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Wow as in WOW, and let’s do a Mariano: “Where are the UP journalists, why is this issue not on the front page of the FDI???” But what does it all serve if it is not embedded in a belief in progress as the American president can formulate so exceptionally well.

    It is reassuring to know that no investments will go to China based on the Freedom House survey . But still “rule of law” is important I guess. Now the only safe (costly?) way is to associate with one of the omnipotent ruling families.

    A few additional suggestions:

    – Address the image/culture issue. The law is perceived as means for corrupt officials to make an extra buck. Similar to the effective “no wang-wang” a drive to hammer out corrupt traffic enforcers is needed. The president himself setting an example of “no to the crocodiles” activity.

    – Perform life-style checks and publish all abnormalities, starting at the judiciary. Couple it with the provision of a decent salary for judges. (And vote a divorce bill to stop the annulment money machine. Now divorce is only legal if you lie and bribe at the same time, simple divorce is not)

    – Use straight away specific improvement methodologies to speed up law cases. We were very successful by using a Six Sigma approach in the legal department of DAR (it is based on analyzing variation between throughput times for similar cases, identifying best practices and eliminating obvious noncontributing activities).

    – Promote and use an understandable legal language and come down from the ivory tower. This way common people can guess what lawyers are talking about. It will make grave incompetence visible for all.

    • Joe America says:

      You know, that is interesting. Why China is lawless in the western sense of human rights, but gets investment. Perhaps the difference is predictability. Investors believe that China has too much riding on creating a reasonably good environment for investors, and can control its act better than the Philippines. Or that China is huge, so investors take the chance.

      I like your suggestions a lot. I’d say pay judges incentives based on the speed and quality of rulings (track cases judged, time in court, and percentage overthrown on appeal).

  3. Interesting commentary. I have not been here long enough, I think, to make an informed opinion. But from what I’ve seen, I would (1) never do business here, (2) always obey the “law” regardless of what goes on around me – I am not willing to go to jail here (or anywhere); (3) always politely question the reason why a traffic enforcer, to use one example, is pulling me over and offering to “pay the fine on my behalf because I must be too busy to be bothered to come to traffic court” (his words); I’ve yet to get a ticket or pay a bribe, and (4) always have a return ticket back to the U.S. I realize this is a young nation trying to find its way. It may have started out on the wrong foot given the many influences it had over the course of time, and everyone wants to do things their own way, despite all the references made by Filipinos about “how it’s done in America”, which makes me want to puke since it is always a bad referral and taken out of context. So I just try to maintain a low profile and keep some opinions to myself and wait to see what comes next (& keep my ticket current).

  4. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Coincidence? I thing Peter Wallace point about the litigation culture is very valid. See

    The duality between the civil law (Spanish, base the Philippine law) and the common law (American, setting the lawyer’s mentality) isn’t helping neither. As if Filipinos never can make up their mind, inches or centimeters, kilos or pounds, letter size or A4, 220 volt (=not US), and 60 hertz (=US), even driving at the left side or the right side 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      Very perceptive and spot-on write-up. All talk, no action. The talk consists of an endless nattering about details in an effort to offend no one, because, after all, offense is so easily taken and so extremely bitter. “Hey, baby, just take some risks, and then own up to the outcomes, good or bad.”

      I’m disappointed at Secretary Abaya at DOT for this same mind-blowing lack of crisp, purposeful progress.

  5. ella says:

    If only the saying: “Money talks” is eradicated in the Philippines or will talk less in the Philippines, I think most of the abovementioned problems will become less. Especially “rule of law” and Filipinos will be voting for people who are really for the service of the Philippines instead of electing people who are more concerned of how much they will deposit in their bank accounts.

  6. manuel buencamino says:

    The Philippines does not lack for laws. It is in law enforcement where the lack is glaring

    • Joe America says:

      It seems to me the lack is in all four components of law enforcement: (1) the policing, (2) the investigation, (3) the prosecution, and (4) the court. And one can argue that, without enforcement, there might as well be no laws. So that is, in effect, lawless.

  7. edgar lores says:

    Here’s a thought. The general perception is that poverty is a major cause of crime and lawlessness. Could it be the other way round?

    • Joe America says:

      That is an interesting twist. Are rich states typically disciplined under the law or undisciplined? I think a dictatorial state CAN be law-abiding (Singapore). But is North Korea law abiding?

      Perhaps it is important that the laws be subscribed to by the people who obey them, not simply imposed. Or that the laws be smart, as in motivating good works, rather than just imposing rules. Man, I have to think about all that. For sure, though, if neither the people nor nor the law enforcers impose discipline, wealth will leak out every which way.

  8. When I saw the table, even before seeing the rest of your article, I know what was coming. Rule of Law is like a pipe dream in this country. Case in point: The torture chamber in Laguna.

    In China’s case, I guess investors overlooked the weak political rights and civil liberties for low wages and productivity. Heck, even some law-abiding American BPO companies overlooked that dismal rule of law score to set up shop here.

    I believe rule of law and maintenance of civil and political rights are important in an orderly country, but in terms of prosperity, I think investors primarily look at factors such as wage level, educational attainment, productivity, cost of water and electricity, infrastructures, minimal red tape, computerized gov’t processes, lifting of 60-40 rule, etc.

    My plan: Focus on drastic econ reform– anyway we aren’t as bad as China in terms of pol rights and civil liberties as of the moment–,then rule of law will come afterwards. A bunch of well-fed, entertained, nicely dressed and property-owning Filipinos can hopefully observe criminal laws and traffic rules much better.

    It’s hard for desperately materialistic islanders to follow rules when they’re always anxious where to get the food for tomorrow, the kids’ tuition next year, money for new IPhone model, a condo where they can invite celebrities, and other nice things in life.

    • Dee says:

      Yes. The Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory is very applicable to the Filipino plight. From the original 5, modern psychologists now extended it to 8:

      1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

      2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.

      3. Social Needs – Belongingness and Love, – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.

      4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

      5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.

      6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

      7. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

      8. Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self actualization.

    • Joe America says:

      Well, David, you make impeccably good sense. Indeed, it is the clustering of law-abiding, decently paid workers that make Manila the place where everyone heads to try to find opportunity . . . the kind represented in a job. That’s largely where American firms hang out, I suspect. Where the economic common sense demands a lawful way to work. I think you are right in terms of the hope being for economic growth and an expansion of those ideals.

  9. manuel buencamino says:

    China and Malaysia scored a lot lower than the Philippines and yet foreign investment flowed more easily to them. In rule of law we are even with Malaysia and way ahead of China and yet…so why are businesses going to China? Why are they going to Malaysia? The Freedom House ranking will not give us the answer

    • Joe America says:

      Right. It is more than laws, although that arena is a part of the overall assessment. Things like 40% ownership limit, having to deal with the pressure of bribes, seeing others who have been burned, a lot of red tape in administrative processes, unable to get redress in courts . . . a whole stew of things I’d imagine.

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