A Role for the Courts in Limiting Philippine Political Dynasties

In an earlier post I wrote about Philippine political dynasties, I argued for the adoption of an anti-dynasty law that would bring into effect Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that “[t]he State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” Since the Philippines gained its independence, political dynasties have dominated national and local government—70% of the last Congress, for example, belonged to a political dynasty. Because these families have maintained an effective oligarchy over the country for decades, they can easily abuse their discretion and commit corrupt acts without consequence.

While the Framers of the 1987 Constitution recognized the danger these elite families posed to fair governance and their propensity to engage in corruption, the Supreme Court has found that the constitutional ban on dynasties is not a self-executing provision. In May 2014, for the first time in history, an anti-dynasty bill made it out of committee and was sponsored before the House plenary. In his final State of the Nation Address, President Noynoy Aquino urged Congress to finally pass an anti-dynasty law. Politicians in Congress, however, have since blocked efforts to pass such a law. By October 2015, the Senate President publicly announced that no anti-dynasty law would be approved before the May 2016 election. Despite my hope that the recent bill would result in a new law at last, this outcome is not surprising. Political dynasties have controlled the majority of Congress for decades, and numerous politicians seeking office in this year’s election would have been prohibited from running if the law had passed.

Now the results of the May election are in, it looks as though Congress will continue to be dominated by dynastic politicians. President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on political dynasties is currently unclear, although he himself belongs to a political dynasty. Given this, legislative action may simply be out of reach for the time being. One interesting question is whether the courts could intervene to bring the constitutional ban into effect. Doing so would be a radical departure from past practice, and would require rethinking certain core judicial doctrines, but might be nonetheless be legitimate under the circumstances. Continue reading

What Does Rodrigo Duterte’s Victory Say About the Philippines’ Experience with Corruption?

Last week, the Philippines elected the highly controversial Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as President of the Philippines. Duterte, who has built up a reputation as a political outsider who will challenge the traditional elite, had been the front-runner for several months, and on May 9th swept his competition with nearly twice as many votes as his closest competitors. In a previous post, I described Duterte’s zero-tolerance approach toward fighting corruption. Unlike his predecessor, President Noynoy Aquino, who himself ran on an anticorruption platform, Duterte has advocated for policies based in discipline and violence. He has threatened to bring back the death penalty for the crime of plunder or even to kill violators himself. (Indeed, Duterte has already admitted to killing criminals in the past). Duterte and his supporters acknowledge that his approach disregards due process and rule of law, which they argue is necessary because of how widespread corruption has become in Philippine government.

Since my last post, Duterte’s notoriety has only grown. In mid-April, Duterte became the subject of international scrutiny when footage from a campaign rally was released that showed him joking about the gang rape of Australian missionary. The real tragedy, Duterte said, was that he had not gotten to the beautiful woman first. His remarks drew criticism from his opponents and the Australian ambassador, and some expressed concern that Duterte’s brazen attitude would threaten relationships with foreign nations. A recent sketch by John Oliver detailed these horrifying remarks, as well as Duterte’s homophobic and bizarre comments while officiating at a mass wedding, when he publicly offered himself as a gift to all of the brides present.

Remarkably, and to the shock of most other countries, Duterte succeeded despite scandal and protest, and in a couple months he will assume office as the next President of the Philippines. What does his victory reveal about the Philippines’ experience with corruption? In the wake of what I view as an extremely troubling electoral result, here are some initial thoughts:

 

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Lasting Legacies: Marcos’ Denial Feeds into a Culture of Corruption

In the past several months, Philippine Vice Presidential hopeful Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has faced a great deal of criticism for refusing to recognize and apologize for the acts of his father, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., who, in addition to committing numerous human rights abuses against Philippine citizens during his 20-year reign as dictator, amassed an estimated $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth for himself and his cronies. Although some assets were seized after the People Power Revolution ended the Marcos regime, the Marcoses and their cronies held on to a great deal of ill-gotten wealth. (Indeed, when the new government was installed, it created an entire agency, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), dedicated to recovering those assets.) In the eyes of many Filipinos, the Marcos name represents an era that saw billions stolen from the people, a fact illustrated by the PCGG’s recent decision to use a virtual exhibit of extravagant jewelry belonging to former first lady Imelda Marcos as an anticorruption campaign. Called the “Story of Extravagance,” it features a diamond tiara in platinum, a ruby tiara in silver, and numerous other jewels, along with descriptions of how the costs of each item could have been used to fund education, energy projects, and health initiatives.

The controversy over Bongbong’s refusal to apologize for this and other unsavory aspects of his father’s regime (including systematic human rights abuses) began last August, when the younger Marcos first asked what he should have to say sorry for, while highlighting the economic progress made during his father’s time in power. Since then, Bongbong has continued to insist that he has no need to apologize, even as criticism of his stance intensified in February, when the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the People Power Revolution. The controversy has been further inflamed by revelations in the Panama Papers that Bongbong’s sister, Governor Imee Marcos, and her three sons were among those linked with offshore accounts. The Marcoses have so far issued no statement on the matter. In fact, not even a week after these revelations, Bongbong reiterated his stance that he has no reason to apologize for his family.

Others on this blog have discussed whether younger generations must take responsibility for the corrupt actions of their parents (see here for Courtney’s discussion of Peru’s Keiko Fujimori). In the case of Bongbong Marcos, and of the younger generation of Marcoses generally, the interesting and troubling reality is that their political careers will likely survive their outright refusal to acknowledge the corrupt acts of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. This frustrating truth speaks volumes about the culture of impunity that plagues Philippine politics, and has troubling implications for the broader anticorruption fight.

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Violence Is Not the Answer: The Case Against Rodrigo Duterte

The life of Rodrigo Duterte, mayor of Davao City in the southern Philippines, reads more like that of a mob boss than a mayor. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has investigated Duterte for his alleged links to a vigilante group called the Davao Death Squad (ties he later admitted), as well as threats made to kill village chiefs who did not support his government programs. He has expressed his support for extrajudicial killings as a means to fight corruption and crime. And in case you don’t think he’s serious, suspects have turned up dead after Duterte issued an ultimatum to all drug dealers to either leave his city within 48 hours or be killed. The man is rumored to have pushed a drug dealer out of a moving helicopter, and has openly stated that he would like to kill all criminals himself and throw them into Manila Bay. The most terrifying thing about him? He’s running for President, and he’s winning.

Duterte’s success can be explained by a number of factors, but one of the most troubling reasons for his popularity is that Filipinos have become so disillusioned by corruption in politics that they’ve become attracted to dangerous, zero tolerance policies. Duterte has stated that he would like to bring back the death penalty for the crime of plunder, and while he back-pedaled on his support for extrajudicial killings in the last presidential debate, Duterte still admits to having killed in the past, with a new ominous and unclear caveat: “It’s always bloody, but I never said extrajudicial.”

The popularity of these extreme policies reflects how frustrated citizens are with corruption in the Philippines. Corruption is incredibly widespread, and plagues the country’s politics, courts, and police forces at the local and national levels. Many voters view Duterte’s approach as necessary to combat this immense problem, which persists despite years of promises from many so-called anticorruption candidates.

While I understand this frustration with Philippine corruption, Duterte’s zero-tolerance approach is short-sighted, misguided, and incredibly dangerous. As voters prepare for the election next month, they should consider the troubling implications of Duterte’s violent approach to the fight against corruption.

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Can Religion Reform Cultures of Corruption? Lessons from the Philippine Catholic Church

During his visit to the Philippines earlier this year, Pope Francis called on the Philippine government to put an end to corruption in the country, and challenged citizens “at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.” While the Pope’s admonishment may seem like mere rhetoric to some, his call to action may have more significant political implications in a country where nearly 83% of the population identifies as Catholic, and where the Church plays a major institutional role in the nation’s culture and government.

In his 2010 piece “’Good News’ in the Fight Against Corruption,” and more recently in a June 2014 working paper on systemic corruption, Professor Roberto Laver highlighted the role religion plays as a cultural force in society, which in turn may impact how societies respond to corruption in government. Religion can affect ethical behavior in obvious ways, but it can also affect how public power and authority are arranged within society. Professor Laver argued that religion, which is often overlooked as a resource for anticorruption efforts, should be used as an “entry point” for a “second generation of reforms” to battle entrenched cultures of corruption.

Assuming Professor Laver is correct that religious institutions are not playing a large enough role in anticorruption efforts worldwide, the Philippine Catholic Church may be an exception to that rule. The Church has been at the center of numerous political debates for decades, and, if the Pope’s speech earlier this year is any indication, it will continue to play a major role in issues involving development, poverty, and corruption. The Philippine example highlights the essential role an institution like the Catholic Church can play in addressing systemic corruption. And by the same token, it demonstrates the costs that come with entrusting that power to religious institutions and leaders.

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Conflicting Philippine Identities and the Fight Against Corruption

In his book, From Third to First World, Lee Kuan Yew remarked that the Philippines has two societies, and that the “elite mestizos had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons.” While this analogy may be extreme, there’s hardly any denying that reforms and economic progress have done little to alleviate the socio-economic disparities entrenched in Philippine society. Even today, Philippine identity looks vastly different for the rich than it does for the poor—in terms of heritage, cultural attitudes, daily experiences, and values. In short, the class divisions that Singapore’s great leader alluded to still exist today, and contribute to a sense of alienation among the two so-called “societies” within Philippine culture.

How does this division play out when it comes to governance, and, for our purposes, anticorruption efforts? Alienation on both sides of the economic divide, and the inability of Filipinos of different classes to relate to one another, have had deleterious effects on progress in this field, and it is important that Philippine policymakers take into account the limits imposed by socioeconomic disparities when considering possible strategies to tackle corruption.

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Facebook Fever is Not Enough: The Role of Social Media in the Philippines

The Philippines, long mired in corruption, appears to have made progress on this front in recent years. While the current administration’s anticorruption efforts may have contributed to this progress, some commentators have suggested that social media might actually be playing a bigger role in the decline of graft in the country. Indeed, there are some dramatic examples of social media playing a role in the fight against corruption. For instance, as details of a major scheme involving misappropriation of public money began to surface in 2013, social media platforms exploded with photos and videos pulled from the Instagram and Facebook account of Jeane Napoles, whose mother, Janet, had orchestrated the scheme. Filipinos were shocked and appalled by all that ill-gotten wealth could buy—private planes, expensive handbags, multi-million dollar apartments, and even a new car detailed with an Hermes leather exterior (yes, exterior). Even after these accounts were taken down, photos of the Napoles’ lavish lifestyle continued to circulate. These images made people far more aggressive in condemning the actions of those involved, and even inspired the Million People March, when protestors called for complete elimination of the fund used in the scheme. More recently, Facebook posts about sightings of the younger Napoles helped the media to discover that Jeane, who fled the country in 2013, had in fact returned. She has since been charged with tax evasion.

This is encouraging, and no doubt social media platforms can be useful in the fight against corruption. Nonetheless, I’m cautious about overstating the long-term impact that social media might have on corruption in the Philippines. After all, the Philippines has had an active free press for decades, and past administrations have frequently been challenged by civilian participation and condemnation of corrupt practices. Can we really rely on social media to effect lasting change? Continue reading