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RP democracy still 'partly free'

WASHINGTON – A number of problems including corruption and the breakdown of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are inhibiting the return of full democracy to the Philippines, said the US-based non-government organization Freedom House.

For the fourth consecutive year, Freedom House in its latest assessment of the state of political rights and civil liberties in 193 countries rated the Philippines as a “partly free” democracy.

The independent non-government organization in its “Freedom in the World 2009” ratings released in Washington on Monday said based on survey results, the Philippines received the same scorecard as it did last year – four points in political rights and three points in civil liberties. One point represents the best score and seven points the worst score.

For optimists, the good news is the Philippines did not suffer a ratings’ setback in the global democracy stakes. For pessimists, the bad news is the country did not advance either. 

In depth, country-by-country reports will not be available until possibly June but Camille Eiss, who is writing the report on the Philippines, said corruption and the increased levels of violence in Mindanao not seen since 2003 were among the major reasons why the Philippines was unable to make any headway.

She told The STAR in a telephone interview that the forced resignation of Senate President Manuel Villar, the coup against House Speaker Jose de Venecia and uncertainty over whether attempts to change the Constitution were aimed at extending the stay in power of President Arroyo were also among major contributing factors.

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Corruption is prevalent in the Philippines. It was the chief reason cited by the US Millennium Challenge Corp. for its decision last month not to elevate the country to compact status eligible for large-scale grant.

Eiss said the “most positive development” Freedom House noted in the Philippines in 2008 was the appointment of Army Gen. Alexander Yano as AFP chief of staff “and the new approach he brings to respect for human rights and distinguishing legal leftist groups and underground armed militias.”

However, military complicity in unexplained killings remains a concern, she said.

A partly free country has limited respect for political rights and civil liberties.

Partly free states frequently suffer from corruption, weak rule of law and ethnic and religious strife and often have an environment in which a single political party enjoys dominance despite the façade of limited pluralism, Freedom House said.

According to its latest ratings, freedom suffered its third year of decline in 2008 although the pace of erosion seemed less than in previous years.

Freedom House rated 89 countries representing 3.05 billion people as “Free,” down by one from the previous year; 62 countries with 1.35 billion people were rated “Partly Free” (up by two); and 42 countries with 2.27 billion people were rated “Not Free” (down by one).

In the Asia-Pacific area, 16 countries including Indonesia, India and South Korea were rated “Free,” 15 countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore were “Partly Free” and eight countries including China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam were rated “Not Free.”

Freedom House was established in 1941 in New York and opposes dictatorships of the far left and the far right.

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