Isabella Farrington is a first year politics and international relations major, whose experiences in the program are the focus of this spring’s segment of the series.


This post is the fourth of our spring segment, Digging In.  If you have not yet done so, please read this introduction for some brief context. 

Rising sophomore Bella Farrington dug into the research on the Philippines for her case study of its state of democracy for Comparative Politics this year.  This post features the second half of her research analysis of the Philippines’ democracy, which concludes her look at several important factors bearing on the political system.  (First part available here.)


Economic Accountability and Inequalities in Power Distribution

Economics in a democracy involves the fundamental concept of equality that procures freedom of opportunity for all citizens and an equally provisional government. In other words, economic and social rights must be an “important and authentic” part of a government’s agenda (Fernandez 2021, 228). As previously mentioned, modernization theory posits that while economic development is not causal to democratization, it does aid in furthering society toward a culture of civic engagement in state affairs (Clark et al. 2019, 76). Economic instability, on the other hand, inhibits a state’s ability to provide goods and services to citizens. In contradiction to modernization theory, the Philippines has failed to effectively disperse its economic success to address inequalities. For example, productivity is scattered across different industry sectors, with the services sector (business outsourcing, tourism, and trade) being the number one contributor (Teehankee and Calimbahin 2020, 102). Imbalances within the economy are dominated by monopolies, resource control, and manipulation by elites that have deliberately maneuvered state responsiveness and equal supply of goods and services. Economic inequality within the state inherently contradicts the democratic belief that citizens have a right to both available and achievable opportunities, especially in the presence of government manipulation and exploitation.

The Philippine state has failed to prevent concentrations of power and resource monopolies within certain federal branches and local municipalities to establish economic equality. The chief executive of the Philippines holds considerable control over the economic resources of the state, including authority over national budgeting, government contracts, and licensing. A concentration of economic power within the executive branch has increased the incentive for other party elites to bargain access to state resources as the president bargains for electoral mobilization by local elites (Calimbahin and Teehankee 2020, 100, 107). Moreover, extreme concentrations of “private wealth, power and coercion” have been reinforced by the development of capitalism, particularly among politicians who are connected to powerful capitalist families (Rodan 2021, 237; Cruz et al. 2017, 3033). This substantiates the previous discussion on the influence of familial ties on electoral outcomes, as closer engagement with powerful social circles has shaped electoral outcomes, not excluding the economic resource realm.

Local elitist systems offer another economic imbalance. “Bossism” refers to “the prevalence of local power brokers who achieve sustained monopolistic control over both coercive and economic resources within given territorial jurisdictions” (Sidel 1997, 952). In contrast to the client-patron method of elite bargaining for resources, bossism relies on coercion as its primary instrument of control (952). Since bossism acts within local municipalities, control over resources more directly impacts the provision of goods and services. Through electoral dependency, abuse of social and familial ties, and bossism, the Philippine economy suffers inequality of dispersion, as power players hold economic monopolies and determine the allocation of resources through bargaining. As such, the political pursuit of social and economic power accumulation has strayed the motivations of the dominating players of the Philippine state away from democratic values of economic equality and equal opportunity.

The economic inequality and exploitation within the Philippines are most importantly accredited to the need for government transparency and accountability as clientelism and elitist interactions suppress state capacity and provision. The Philippines is unable to create legislation and decrees that benefit citizens – an essential aspect of democracy – as the concentration of economic power and the prevalence of elite resource bargaining warps resource allocation (Calimbahin and Teehankee 2020, 100, 114). For example, research has found that villages, where a mayor’s family has more political, social, and economic centrality, are more likely to receive government-subsidized health insurance, even though the law requires the poorest regions to be prioritized (Cruz et al. 2017, 3033). Instead, the “discriminatory enforcement of laws and regulations and disbursement of public land, funds, and employment have served as the essential instruments of state-based predation” (Sidel 1997, 962). In some ways, the Philippines’ state capacity can be defined as illusory responsiveness that unjustly benefits political and economic elites. The extensive entanglement of the political and economic spheres of the state expresses the urgent need for strengthened institutional mechanisms of accountability and transparency to ensure equality and dispel corruption in resource allocation and state provisionary responsibilities.

The Effect of Political and Economic Corruption on Human Rights Protections

Human rights are typically the cornerstone of functional government systems, but quality democratic systems invoke structural mechanisms that serve to actualize values for civil, social, and economic liberties and rights. Ideal democracies serve on a basis of “respect” for human rights (IDEA 2021, 38). The GSoD aggregates access to justice, civil liberties, and social rights and equality as a basis for measuring Fundamental Rights (21). The protection of these civil rights and liberties within democracy allows the public to “demand from the state a rational devotion of its efforts to safeguard the general well-being of its citizens” (Fernandez 2021, 227). Unfortunately, systems often do not meet the ideal standard of operating with a focus on the protection of minority rights, provision of goods and services, representation, and inclusivity.

In the case of the Philippines, “liberal principles and human rights have been enshrined in the 1987 Constitution but in reality, a wide chasm exists between political power and individual rights” (Calimbahin and Teehankee 2020, 110). The history of infringement on human rights from the Marcos dictatorship has persisted, along with widespread poverty and hunger. Notably, Mr. Duterte’s “War on Drugs” has faced many allegations, particularly extra-judicial killings (Calimbahin and Teehankee 2020, 106; Fernandez 2021, 229). The veritable actualization of human rights protections within the Philippines has been side-stepped by political and economic imbalances that have distracted the state from true democratic justice and provision.

The tactics of politicians have promoted illiberal democracy and suppressed backlash on corruption, in turn diminishing fundamental human rights and a free press. Imprisonment and killings of journalists, for instance, have been reframed by Mr. Duterte’s explicit language and implicit rhetoric as “deserving” (Ragragio 2021, 864-865). Additionally, the “War on Drugs” campaign implementation has included extra-judicial executions, interrogations, and corrupt policing that has occurred, along with government inaction to address the killings (Fernandez 2021, 205-211). The paradoxical public support for authoritarian infringement on human rights can be explained by strongman populist techniques leaders utilize to easily amass support from the citizenry as they promise to take on issues that most concern citizens, such as crime, poverty, and hunger (Ragragio 2021, 853; Tusalem 2016, 521). Strongman manipulation is exemplified as reformist agendas towards addressing poverty and hunger have caused Philippine politicians to win elections, with little adverse response as politicians face scandal and engage in corrupt practices (Tusalem 2016, 521; Bello 2020, 705). Without fear of losing public support, leaders lack the incentive to abstain from elitist bargaining, economic power accumulation, and infringement on human rights. In essence, citizen perceptions of political leaders can be altered by strongman and populist politics, enabling government disregard of equality and human rights so long as leaders symbolically address the immediate needs of the public.


The backsliding democracy of the Philippines qualifies as oligarchic, with weak institutional mechanisms of democracy. Namely, the state acts with authoritarian governance through democratic structures, such as elections, as politicians utilize clientelist, charismatic, and strongman politics. Furthermore, inequalities persist as elites engage in resource bargaining and the formation of economic monopolies, influenced by familial ties and a lack of government accountability and transparency. Finally, infringements on human rights and economic manipulation that exacerbates poverty and failure address to systemic inequalities are enabled as politicians target citizen perceptions of government ability.

The Philippine state poses a great need for strengthening democratic institutions, government accountability, and transparency to address corruption, inequality, and limited state capacity. One more extreme proposal is to convert the presidential system to a parliamentary system, in hopes it would provide a secure method for interests to “organize change and channel new social demands from parts of the populace” as traditional politicians, with more democratic views and less elitist interests, would wield more influence under a parliamentary system (Dressel 2011, 541). Additionally, encouraging the strengthening and involvement of human rights advocates and civil society organizations can place pressure on the state for increased transparency and accountability (Fernandez 2021, 229-230). On a smaller scale, the encouragement of community civic engagement through support for barangays, or villages, – the lowest tier of the Philippine government – can aid in distributing wealth and providing resources to citizens more directly as a form of grassroots democracy (Turok and Scheba 2020, 183-184).

With combined approaches, the Philippine democracy can be strengthened, but the current status poses a great risk of further deterioration of functional democracy in terms of its representation, equality, and human rights.



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Bello, Walden Flores. 2020. “A Dangerous Liaison? Harnessing Weber to Illuminate the Relationship of Democracy and Charisma in the Philippines and India.” International Sociology 35 (6): 691–709.

Calimbahin, Cleo Anne A., and Julio C. Teehankee. 2020. “Mapping the Philippines’ Defective Democracy.” Asian Affairs, an American Review 47 (2): 97–125.

Clark, William Roberts, Matt Golder, and Sona Nadenichek Golder. 2019. Foundations of Comparative Politics, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.

Cruz, Cesi, Julien Labonne, and Pablo Querubín. 2017. “Politician Family Networks and Electoral Outcomes: Evidence from the Philippines.” The American Economic Review 107 (10): 3006–37.

Dressel, Björn. 2011. “The Philippines: How Much Real Democracy?” International Political Science Review 32 (5): 529–45.

Fernandez, Gemmo Bautista. 2021. “Rise of Illiberal Democracy, Weakening of the Rule of Law, & Implementation of Human Rights in the Philippines.” American University International Law Review 36 (2): 181–230.

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. 2021. “The Global State of Democracy 2021: Building Resilience in a Pandemic Era.” GSOD21.pdf (

Ragragio, Jefferson Lyndon D. 2021. “Strongman, Patronage and Fake News: Anti-Human Rights Discourses and Populism in the Philippines.” Journal of Language and Politics 20 (6): 852–72.

Rodan, Garry. 2021. “Inequality and Political Representation in the Philippines and Singapore.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 51 (2): 233–61.

Sidel, John T. 1997. “Philippine Politics in Town, District, and Province: Bossism in Cavite and Cebu.” The Journal of Asian Studies 56 (4): 947–66.

Turok, Ivan, and Andreas Scheba. 2020. “Grassroots Democracy and Development: Learning from the Philippines.” Local Economy 35 (3): 179–85.

Tusalem, Rollin F. 2016. “Political and Economic Accountability in a Delegative Democracy.” International Political Science Review 37 (4): 517–32.


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