MALAYBALAY CITY (January 12) – In a report embargoed until January 13, Freedom House listed the Philippines as among the few countries across the globe that have improved their status as electoral democracies. The report, titled “Freedom in the World 2011,” states: “The most positive development was a major improvement in the Philippines due to elections that were deemed relatively free and fair, and that were conducted in notably less violent circumstances than in the recent past. The Philippines had its designation as an electoral democracy restored as a result.”

Freedom House’s positive outlook for the Philippines is in stark contrast to developments in other Asia-Pacific countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Fiji, Indian Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Thailand where “declines” were noted in the areas of free expression and other civil and political rights. Overall, however, the democracy watchdog classified the Philippines as “partly free,” which is quite unsettling.

Moreover, in a scale of 1 to 7 where 1 is the highest, the country’s performance in the field of political rights has only slightly improved, from 4 to 3. Political rights ratings are based on an evaluation of three subcategories: electoral process, political pluralism and participation, and functioning of government, according to Freedom House. The Philippines’ improved rating owed mainly, if not solely to the outcome of the 10 May 2010 elections.

While its rating in the field of civil liberties has remained at 3, which implies that there had been no marked improvements in the exercise of freedom of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy and individual rights, the yardsticks used by Freedom House in measuring the degree of civil rights enjoyed by citizens of a particular country. Note that Freedom House describes the Philippines as an electoral democracy not a liberal democracy.

Given that the current government snubbed the Nobel Peace Prize award rites for imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in the hope of obtaining clemency for convicted Filipino drug mules in China who are on death row, the rating should have gone down to 4 if not lower. Such act shows the tendency of this administration to trivialize the importance of freedom of expression in a working democracy.
Aside from the elections last year, the report does not cite other qualitative bases for the rating it gave the Philippines. But the other subcategories under political rights would give hints that a herculean job lies ahead for government if it wishes to get out of the rut it’s in. Take for instance the questions under the subcategory “functioning government”: 1] Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2] Is the government free from pervasive corruption? and 3] Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?

The Philippines may have passed with flying colors the first question. Unfortunately, seriously fighting corruption and operating under an atmosphere of transparency have always been the weakest points of government, although the Aquino administration still has a lot of time left to prove it can go beyond rhetoric in addressing these persistent ills.

Under the subcategory “rule of law” in civil liberties, Freedom House poses the following questions: 1] Is there an independent judiciary? 2] Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control? 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? 4] Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?

Some keywords: rule of law, unjustified imprisonment, torture, war and insurgencies, equal treatment. No need to expound.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at