Philippine Democracy: Current State and Challenges


To start with, this is democracy in the Philippines essay  in which this topic will be considered. Philippines, as the oldest south-east Asian republics constructed democratic institution and toppled authoritarian rule, ironically fumbled in consolidating democracy and reverted to authoritarianism in recent years. After the fall of Marco’s authoritarian regime in 1986, democratic institutions (fair and open election) have been gradually imposed with the assistance of United Stated while Philippines is marked as the third wave of democratization in Asia. The elected leaders after Marco were considered provided a relatively smooth transition for Philippines from dictatorship to democracy, including president Aquino attempted to restore democracy to Philippines from 1965 to 1976, and another political leader Ramos implemented massive social, political and electoral reforms which initiated decentralization of power and allowed greater space for liberalization from 1992 to 1998. Yet, despite there are efforts of political elites in transition of democratization, the consolidation of democracy in Philippines remained stagnant. The essay about democracy in the Philippines contributes to find the reason of the stagnant democracy in Philippines. It argues that the current progression of democratization is an illiberal democracy in Philippines and there is less tendency of further democratization. Opinion about democracy in the philippines essay analysis the prospect of the democratization in Philippines and argued that there are three obstacles of democratization which are the social structure of oligarchic dominance, ill-developed political party system and corruption and the rising populism.

Democratization Represented Transition of Regime From Authoritarianism to Democracy

Przeworki distinguished the transition of democracy into two phases: the first transition from authoritarian regime to democracy, and then a transition to consolidation of democracy. Przeworki regarded the transformation of democracy from a procedural democracy to liberal democracy as a linear progression in democratization. Here, procedural definition represented a process of selecting government under an election and party competition, while substantive definition emphasizes on individual liberty, that they should be protected under the rules of law equally, and state itself serves the function of securing these rights. The first transition comes to opening from autocratic rule to democracy. Democratic institutions would be established after the extrication from the authoritarianism. The second transition involves consolidation of democracy. In order to protect individual liberty, substantive terms including free and fair election, inclusive suffrage, the possibility of alternation in power, the freedom of speech and uncensored press are more important. And for those democratic regime stumble in consolidating the liberal terms, these democracies could be characterized as defective democracy.

Currently, Philippines could be classified as a democracy with illiberal or defective components as it successfully established free and fair election, universal suffrage and civil society which is the first transition. However, it still consists of weaknesses on its accountability on election, including the manipulation of vote counting and the oligarchic dominance in political society. Civil liberties, rules of law and the human rights in Philippines are also facing problems including violations of human rights by government official, problems of “low intensity citizenship” and corruption in Judiciary. But then it rises up another question, why Philippines struggling on the second transition and what obstacles existing avoid the further democratization in Philippines? In order to answer this question, we need to look into the factors in democratization, and whether they are affecting or limiting democratization.

Challenges: Oligarchic Dominance in Philippines

Democratization itself is impacted by a number of factors and one of the most generalized theses is Lipset’s work, that is economic development increase chances for a transition to democracy. However, along the semi-modern path, oligarchic economic dominance occurred, landed elite used democratic institutions to favor their own economic interest. And because of the family system in Philippines, it becomes a system of ritual kinship called Compadrazgo. The government elected are dominated by these ritual kinships that the rulers are forced to listen the demand of landed elites. As mentioned in Rueschemeyer’s word, landowning class is the obstruction of transition to democracy. It produces acute imbalance of power and damages the acceptance of property-owning classes or those in power to democracy, and regard democracy as a threat to their self-interest.

Challenges: Ill-Developed Political Party System and Corruption

The party system of Philippines is weak and institutionalized as they are being used as an instrument of partrimonialism. The party system, which called “trapo party”, allows those patrimonialistic types of politicians to gain seats and power automatically, and without any actual competition with other politicians from lower, middle classes. The other problem is lack of real competition between trapo parties. Even though there might an oppositions or alternative party in election, the opposition parties who somehow won the election often switch over to the administration side as well because they could gain massive amount of patronage money and the position in government. This phenomena of partrimonialism in parties is also associated with the corruption problem. according to measurement of the global corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), if score 10 represent the cleanest, Philippines sunken to 2.5 in 2003, 2005, and 2006. All in all, the ill-developed political party system and corruption obstruct any political liberalization, and thus limiting the democratization to a more liberal way.

Opportunity or Challenges? The Phenomenon of Rising Populism in Philippiness

Currently, there is a phenomenon of populism around the world, and right-wing populist like the recent elected leader Duterte rise up and gain power surprisingly in the 2016 election. Just like the essay mentioned above, the democratic institutions in Philippines is deeply limited and corrupted by the oligarchic groups. As the situation continues, citizens are unsatisfied with the long-term autocratic elite rule (even it names democracy) and desperately seek a change of political leader, who are not from the elite class or with the administration side. The switch of voters’ expectation made the success of Duterte, that he promised decisive, single-minded leadership in order to minimize the crime rate and corruption. The rise of populism seems finally a Dawn to strike down the long-term elite democracy in Philippines, and perhaps bring a more participated and liberal democracy. However, it turns out worsen for the democratization in Philippine. Duterte is representation of the tyranny of majority, as he often ceased the human right and the constitution of democracy according to the will of majority. Just like what Foa and Mounk said, there is a troubling phenomenon named “democratic fatigue”, as growing numbers of citizens become comfortable to reverting to authoritarianism and supporting it. It is definitely an obstacle and even a growing threat to democratization, this could be a spread of authoritarianism from one country to another.


In the initial section of status of democracy in the philippines essay, it addressed the question of the current progression of democratization in Philippines by looking into weaknesses of the accountability of the election and the area of civil liberties, rules of law and the human right. It is shown that the democracy in Philippines is currently regarded as illiberal or defective democracy. It then analysis the two possible causes of defective democracy in Philippines, which are the oligarchic dominance in election and the ill-developed political party system and corruption. All in all, even though the democratic institutions have been established and successfully transit into minimalist-procedural democracy, there are considerable obstacles from its own social structure and election party system. It seems pessimistic for further democratization as top-down democratization is unlike to happen. Elected elites will continuously initiate or are being forced to favor those landed elites in the future. Even worsen, the growing populism is a signal of growing acceptance and reverting to authoritarianism which might ultimately damage the existing procedural democracy in Philippines.


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10 October 2022
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