MANILA - The Philippines' response to the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the major reasons why the country further fell in a global index on the rule of law, the director of the World Justice Project said on Monday.
The Philippines last week placed 102nd out of 139 countries in the WJP Rule of Law Index 2021, down from 91st place in 2020.
The country also ranked 13th out of 15 countries in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific, only ahead of Myanmar and Cambodia.
WJP director and columnist John Nery said the Philippines fell in the rankings "precisely because of the pandemic."
"Because of the pandemic, there were more restrictions imposed on the public. But the 2021 index also pointed out there was a constricting of civic space," he told ANC.
Civic space includes freedom of association, freedom of expression and civic participation, Nery explained.
"And in all three, the Philippines also declined," he said, adding the country joined 80 percent of nations around the world that suffered constriction in personal freedoms.
The Duterte administration's "militaristic" response to the COVID-19 pandemic "has been wrong from the start" because they treated it as a public security emergency instead of a public health crisis, Nery said.
"Because they treat it as a public security emergency, people feel that there are fewer constraints on government powers. Why? Because we see the Philippine National Police, which is actually a civilian institution, wearing combat gear on our streets," he said.
"I think that's one of the main reasons why the overall rankings of the Philippines fell."
Nery said that if the Philippines wants to improve its ranking on the rule of law index, many factors should be considered by government, such as protection of fundamental rights.
He said, however, that the overall impact of the country's efforts to improve its rating will take a long time to be reflected.
"There is a real responsibility on the part of the government to get its act together," Nery said.
Overall, ranked at the top of the WJP index were Denmark (1), Norway (2), and Finland (3). The bottom three were Congo (137), Cambodia (138), and Venezuela (139). East Asia and Pacific’s top performer was New Zealand (7) out of 139), followed by Australia and Japan.
Experts have lamented that instead of taking on a public health approach, the Philippine government ended up berating people who were “pasaway” or disobedient, accusing the people of being at fault for the spread of the virus.
Last year, authorities were slammed for the shooting of a mentally ill man and multiple reports of inhumane punishment of quarantine violators.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also has received a lot of flak for various COVID response issues.
Earlier this month, the Philippines fell to the bottom of the latest Nikkei Asia COVID recovery and Bloomberg’s COVID resilience rankings.