Democratic Backsliding & Shrinking Civic Spaces:
Problematizing the Strengthening of Philippine Democratic Institutions
This working paper problematizes the challenges to Philippine democracy through the lens of its democratic institutions. The paper argues the existence of democratic backsliding, which happens when a nominally democratic government infringes on political and civil rights or restricts political competition or accountability, and is characterized by (a) gradual breakdowns in the structures of freedom of assembly, organization, and speech, or the shrinking of civic spaces, and (b) the efforts of the incumbent to strengthen the executive branch at the expense of the judiciary and the legislative (Baker, et.al., 2017). The paper discusses that the experience of the Philippine democracy is consistent with the trends of backsliding of democracy all over the world, as shown by global indices that measure democracy and its key characteristics.
The paper nuances democratic backsliding and shrinking of civic spaces in their facets, which is drawn from literature and key informant interviews. The analysis of the facets are divided into the following: (a) executive aggrandizement and how the executive over-asserts itself through hyper-presidentialism, through the political symbiotic relationship between itself and the legislative, through the general incapacity of Constitutional Commissions and bodies to mitigate its powers, and through its complex relationship with the media; (b) political polarization as a product of populist politics, and how it affects the weak political parties and a fragmented civil society; and (c) institutionalized arbitrariness which emerged through impunity and the lack of checks and balance when the armed state power is put into effect. Each discussion raises the limitations faced by democratic institutions involved such as continued capture of the elite of structures and processes, and the lack of incentives to elevate the institutions to uphold more substantive values and processes of democracy.
Finally, drawing from the thematic observations, the paper ends with questions for civil society and democracy advocates for consideration for a long-term political project of strengthening democratic institutions. The paper argues that while responsiveness and vigilance is necessary to address increasing manifestations of executive aggrandizement in lives lost and compromised exercise of freedoms, strengthening Philippine democracy through its institutions require a more strategic, long-term, inclusive approach from civil society to propel democracy forward.
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