By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — London-based think tank Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) cited the Philippines’ “flawed democracy” as it slipped to 55 out of 167 countries in Democracy Index 2020.

The country placed 51st in 2017, 53rd in 2018 and 54th in 2019.

From 6.64 in 2019, the Philippines recorded an average of 6.56 in 2020 after scoring 9.17 in electoral process and pluralism, 5 in functioning government, 7.78 in political participation, 4.38 in political culture and 6.47 in civil liberties.

According to the Index, countries with scores placing them under flawed democracy “have free and fair elections, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected.”

In a report by The Philippine Star, New Zealand topped the regional rankings with a score of 9.25, followed by Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea which were all classified as “full democracy” while the Philippines remained ninth in Asia and Australasia.

The 2020 index, according to EIU, was dominated by European countries classified under “full democracy, with Norway topping the list with a score of 9.81, followed by Iceland (9.37), Sweden (9.26), New Zealand (9.25) and Finland (9.20).

Europe has 13 countries under full democracies and seven under flawed democracies, up from five.

“Only 8.4 percent of the world’s population live in full democracies or countries that provide their citizens civil liberties and political freedoms as well as an effective government and political culture,” the report read.

“The most significant downward score changes were in the category of civil liberties, for which the aggregate score fell sharply, and in the functioning of government category,” it added.

EIU is the research division of the Economist Group, with the index on a 0 to 10 scale, based on the five categories of electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.

Lockdown restrictions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic

In a report by BusinessWorld, University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela Atienza cited the growing role of the military, police, and retired generals in fighting COVID-19 and constant red-tagging of critics.

According to the report, over 100,000 violators of quarantine protocols were arrested since the entire Luzon was placed in lockdown in mid-March 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“The lockdown restrictions and arrests of violators in the Philippines could be a factor but there were also non-lockdown related incidents last year,” Atienza said, noting the “unexplained deaths of drug suspects, congressional rejection of ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise renewal and Duterte’s continuing attacks against his critics and opposition figures.”

“Questions regarding the transparency of the government in procurement of medical and other health-related supplies needed to combat the pandemic and allegations of corruption in Philhealth and DOH were very prominent last year,” she added.

Democracy “very much alive”

In a Palace press briefing on February 4, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that democracy is “very much alive” in the Philippines.

“Kung titingnan natin ang datos no, naunahan po tayo ng Taiwan, Malaysia at Timor Liste, pero we are ahead of Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos. In other words, ahead of almost all the major countries of Southeast Asia,” he said.

“We will strive to do better pero that ranking shows that democracy is very much alive in the Philippines, our democratic institutions are working, we have an independent judiciary, an independent legislative department, and of course, an executive department that is always the victim of criticisms,” he added.

On February 3, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo noted that “endless criticisms from political opposition as well as government detractors are proof that the administration respects democracy.”

“The Duterte Administration is committed to continue respecting the voices of all citizens, as evidenced by the endless criticisms from the political opposition, the left, as well as the government’s detractors, who have unimpeded access to both local and international press,” he said.