Pandemic Backsliding in The Philippines

By Stefanie Kaiser Feb. 2, 2021 Weekly Graphs

The V-Dem Institute’s Pandemic Backsliding Project is compiling a dataset that tracks state responses to the Covid-19 pandemic to capture variation in emergency measures and their execution, addressing how these decisions may affect countries’ quality of democracy. The latest version of the dataset now covers the period from March to December 2020. It also includes time series data from March to June, July to September, and October to December.

V-Dem’s latest Policy Brief reports that 26 countries used more democratic means of responding to the second wave of Covid-19 than they did for the first wave. However, there are still reports about violations of democratic standards in 69 countries. Most of these countries exhibited low quality of democracy before the pandemic. 

One case that stands out is the Philippines. According to the Pandemic Backsliding Project, the Philippines exhibited some abusive enforcement, violated non-derogable or absolute rights, and restricted media freedom. The graph below summarizes the violations of democratic standards from March to December. We classify violations into seven categories based on the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Type 1 deals with discriminatory measures on the basis of race, color, sex or religion.

Type 2 is about the derogation of fundamental human rights including the right to life, freedom from torture, or the right as a person before the law.

Type 3 deals with abusive enforcement by the police or the military when executing emergency measures.

Type 4 and 5 report violations against legal-procedural aspects.

Type 6 is about disinformation about the virus by the government or other officials.

Type 7 reports restrictions of media freedom. This also includes harassment of journalists and limits on access to media information about the government’s emergency responses.

The Philippines had the first recorded coronavirus death outside of China, in February. By May 2020 there were 14,669 confirmed cases and 886 deaths. Covid-19 cases began to rise dramatically in August. In total, the country had 472,000 cases and 9,244 deaths in 2020, making it one of the hardest-hit countries in Southeast Asia.

As a result, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved a bill on 25 march 2020 declaring a state of emergency. The bill grants him special powers to launch aid programmes, but also to punish people disobeying the emergency regulations. For example, people faced prison sentences for breaking lockdown regulations and more than 76,000 people were arrested between March and July.

Furthermore, President Duterte's emergency regulations are preventing independent media from covering official briefings on Covid-19 in the country. Only accredited media are allowed to attend the briefings. In May 2020, the Philippines’ biggest broadcaster ABS-CBN was forced off air.

Despite those violations of human rights, President Duterte still has one of the world’s highest citizen approval ratings.

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