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Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government by secret ballot in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Candidates, including for the presidency, frequently had their legal right to run for office challenged by political opponents based on alleged criminal history, citizenship, or other disqualifying conditions. These cases were sometimes pursued to the Supreme Court. Political candidates were allowed to substitute placeholders for themselves if unable to complete the registration process on time.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country conducted nationwide midterm elections in 2019 for national and local officials. International and national observers viewed the elections as well organized and generally free and fair, but they noted vote buying continued to be widespread and that dynastic political families continued to monopolize elective offices. The PNP reported 60 incidents of election-related violence that led to 23 killings in the month leading up to the election and a 55 percent drop in violent incidents on election day compared with the 2016 national elections. Election officials described the polls as relatively peaceful. International Alert, however, reported 144 election-related incidents in the BARMM alone, mostly fistfights and small-scale bombings. President Duterte’s release of his “narco-list” ahead of the 2019 midterms as a tool to defeat opposition candidates was of uncertain effect, as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed that 25 of 46 politicians on it won in the midterm polls.

In 2019 President Duterte signed into law a bill postponing the next barangay and youth council elections, previously scheduled for 2021, to December 2022 to align the schedule with barangay elections.

There was concern that COVID-19 restrictions were preventing millions of potential voters from registering for the May 2022 national elections. Lawmakers compelled the extension of voter registration by one month. An August 2020 Commission on Elections resolution stated that voter registration cannot reopen in areas under the highest levels of COVID-19-related quarantine or lockdown.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority and historically marginalized groups in the political process, and they did participate. At the national level, women constituted nearly 30 percent of the legislature. Participation by these groups did not change significantly compared with previous elections.

Men dominated the political scene, although the number of women holding elected positions in government rose after the 2019 elections. Media commentators expressed concern that political dynasties limited opportunities for female candidates not connected to political families.

There were no Muslim or indigenous Senate members, but there were 11 Muslim members of the House of Representatives, mostly from Muslim-majority provinces, and at least three members of indigenous descent. Muslims, indigenous groups, and others maintained that electing senators from a nationwide list favored established political figures from the Manila area.

The law provides for a party-list system, designed to ensure the representation of marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society, for 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement these laws effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Prolonged delays in the justice system reinforced the perception of impunity for the security forces and for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of corruption and human rights abuses.

Corruption: To combat corruption, the constitution established the independent Office of the Ombudsman, an appellate-level anticorruption court, and the Commission on Audit. All three organizations were consistently allocated budgets below what they requested, but they actively collaborated with the public and civil society and appeared to operate independently and use their limited resources effectively. Despite government efforts to file charges and obtain convictions in many cases, officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with relative impunity.

Between January and July, the Office of the Ombudsman won 125 convictions in 235 corruption cases. The total number of cases in this period dropped by more than 50 percent from the previous year, and the conviction rate decreased to 53 percent from 69 percent in the same period in 2020.

In the state of the nation address, President Duterte declared he had fired 43 Bureau of Immigration officials over an alleged corruption scam that permitted thousands of Chinese nationals to enter the country illegally in 2020 to work in the online gaming industry. On July 28, however, Justice Department secretary Menardo Guevara told media the “fired” officials had returned to work after a six-month suspension without pay, although they had not yet been given assignments pending conclusion of departmental investigations into their cases. Criminal charges against the officials were reportedly still pending in the Office of the Ombudsman as of October.

The Senate opened an investigation in September into government-procured COVID-19 personal protective equipment from a small manufacturer owned by a friend and previous economic advisor to President Duterte. The firm allegedly received a disproportionate number of the contracts. Duterte barred his cabinet members from attending Senate hearings related to the probe.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future