Over the past three decades, since the end of the Ferdinand Marcos era in the Philippines, the country has often combined corrupt and semi-authoritarian elected politics with strong cultural and institutional checks on elected leaders. One of the most powerful checks has been the Philippines’ vibrant media and highly active civil society, including NGOs, unions, and many other actors. The Catholic Church, at times, also has pushed back against politicians’ graft and amassing of power.
The judiciary, too, often has served as a firewall against allegedly corrupt presidents and lower-ranking politicians. So far, however, these checks on President Rodrigo Duterte’s power have displayed a mixed record. The Catholic Church continues to criticize Duterte’s brutal, extrajudicial war on drugs, but it is unclear whether the Church has the same power to sway Philippine society as it did in the past. Duterte’s administration has co-opted several prominent civil society figures. In other cases, Duterte has used his bully pulpit to personally threaten civil society activists, while his declaration of martial law on the southern island of Mindanao has hampered civil society organizations’ operations in the south. With the media, meanwhile, the Duterte administration has taken a harsh approach, and has had some success in taming news outlets.
The Philippine judiciary, however, has not always been as cowed by Duterte. For more on the judiciary’s battles with Duterte, and how Philippine judiciary fits into a global movement of empowered judges, see my new World Politics Review article.