The Philippines is a small country located in Asia’s South East Asian region. To its north lies Taiwan, China, and Korea; to the east lies the Pacific Ocean, to the west, Vietnam and its nearby countries; and to the south lies Malaysia and its nearby countries. The Philippines has a rich and long international history that dates back to the three hundred years of Spanish Occupation, which actually lead to a series of violent wars of revolution, in the 17th century. The objective of this paper is to present a comprehensive discussion of this country, focusing on political system and structural issues related to it such as the type of government it has, and the different policies it implements to its people.
Geography: Advantages and Disadvantages
The Philippines is somewhat unique compared to other countries geographically because while some countries such as China and Russia are geographically characterized by a huge chunk of land mass and numerous islands at the outskirts of its territorial waters, the Philippines is literally composed of scattered landmasses, an Archipelago. Being composed of at least 7,107 islands, the Philippine Archipelago remains to be one of the largest archipelagos in the world, making it in line with countries like Indonesia, Japan, and Bahamas.
This geographical feature, its being composed of scattered land masses instead of just a single large chunk of land, has greatly contributed to the country’s political, social, cultural, and economic system. It appears that there are various pros and cons of being an archipelagic state. First and foremost, being an archipelagic state could have a huge impact on a country’s political system because it, in a way, forces the government to group the country, in a way that would not compromise the government’s political and economic grasp of every group. The Philippines is grouped into various regions, according to their geographical location. For example, region one is composed of the provinces of Dagupan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan. Looking at the Philippine Map, one could see the level of proximity that exists between these provinces. There are of course times, when control of these provinces slips out of the government’s hand, despite efforts to uphold it. One of the factors that analysts frequently look into is the archipelagic qualities of the Philippines. Its archipelagic feature serves as an advantage for guerilla groups who want to stage a rebellion to face less risks of being detected by the Philippine Armed Forces and other anti-rebellion coalitions and groups. It would definitely be harder for any government to quell a rebellion that has troops scattered all over a group of 7,107 islands. And on the other side of the equation, it would certainly be a lot easier for anti-government groups to stage a rebellion, and achieve their goals, if they would strategically distribute their forces in various locations than present them as one concentrated chunk. Being an archipelago also has one major advantage. Being covered with a lot of bodies of water, the fishing industry in the Philippines has always been one of the most lucrative in the region. Almost every major city that has access to salt and fresh waters has their own micro-fishing industries. Among all cities with a micro-fishing industry in the Philippines, the General Santos City, located in the Visayan region of the country, is the most active. Having more than an adequate volume of shorelines may also be interpreted as a major advantage in international trade. In fact, during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, the country became one of the most significant shipping points for the historical Galleon Trade which was one of the largest trading activities ever existed in Asia in the 17th century. Up to now, this analysis still proves to be true as the Philippines still relies on its marine trade routes for its trade commitments with other members of the international community such as the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, which are some of its most significant trading partners.
As mentioned before, the Philippines has a long political history. This country has been involved with at least three major invasions, two of which was staged by two World Superpowers, Spain and the United States, and the other one by the Imperialist Japan. Chronologically, it was Spain who invaded the Philippines first, followed by the United States, after technically buying the Philippines from the Spaniards, and then by Japan, who tried to annex the Philippines during the Second World War. These are by far the most significant political events or transitions that happened in the past three hundred years.
In terms of Political structure, it would not hurt to start from the prehistoric period. In Prehistoric Philippines, Datus, Rajas, and Sultans were the leader. They basically acted as governors of a province. Historical accounts say that the Philippines during their prehistoric period was not controlled by a president or at least by any other individual or group that would act as one. During the era of Spanish Colonization, the Philippines was forced to adapt the political system being implemented in Spain. The entire Philippines was led by a Governor General. Filipinos during that time were practically deprived of having high political positions. Some were given permission to serve as town mayors, Cabeza de Barangay and other positions but they were still subject to impositions made by the Spanish officials, and even soldiers.
The Philippines became a colony of Spain for at least 300 years straight (1521 – 1898). This is why it would be more practical to place on the colonial life of the Filipinos during this period.
As a colony of Spain, a former World Superpower (unfortunately, after a continuous wave of revolutions staged by its colonies, its power and influence as a Superpower were significantly reduced), it would be logical to say that the Filipinos suffered a miserable life, at least based on the historical recounts published in the past. Filipinos were virtually slaves to the Spaniards. Even the ones who hold positions as a government official were allowed to be humiliated by Spaniards, even by the lowly civil town guards. Freedom of speech was non-existent as any phrase, literary works, and basically anything that could be misinterpreted as anti-government would immediately be taken care of by the Spaniards. There were reported incidences of women being raped and then killed afterwards, in front of their husbands; random and unjustified killings of citizens—which are most likely suspected members of anti-Spain guerilla movements; and even mass murders. The Spanish friars were treated as elites in the Philippines during the colonial period. They could basically do whatever they want. At a time when a separation line between the government and the church was not realized, they became one of the most influential people in the country. It would not be good to generalize though. According to recounts, there were indeed reasonable Spanish officials during the 300-year Spanish occupation of the Philippines. However, the problem is that they are often replaced by typical and sometimes, even more oppressive officials.
There are currently eight major parties in the Philippine government. The People Power Christian Muslim Democrats (headed by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), the Liberal Party (headed by the current president Benigno Aquino III), the Nationalist Party (headed by Manny Villar), the Nationalist People’s Coalition (headed by Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.), the National Unity Party (headed by Pablo Garcia), and the United Nationalist Alliance (headed by Jejomar Binay, former president Joseph Estrada, and current Senate President, Juan Ponce Enrile). Currently, the Liberal Party is the dominant one, holding 92 of 287 seats in the lower house, and 4 of 24 seats in the upper house (the Nacionalista Party is the most dominant one in the Upper House holding 5 of 24 seats, it is also the oldest political party in the Philippines). There are of course other minor and smaller parties. However, these are the parties whose candidates on the upcoming election will most likely fill in the vacant senate and congressional positions. There is basically no separation of power in the current Philippine government despite it having numerous parties and as far as justice is concerned, the Supreme Court of the Philippines is the standard judiciary that imposes sentences and other court decisions in the country, regardless of the political parties.
Elections and Democracy
Men and women, who are 18 years old and above, and are registered for voting, have the right and freedom to vote. This is one of the unique features of democracy. The people have the power to select their leader, and should the one they selected go amok, remove it from its position. The media, which in the recent years, proved to be a symbol of whether the democracy in the country is already fading or not, is not run by the state and actually enjoys their freedom of speech well. The people are also relatively free to voice out their concerns, whether it is about the government and other related issues. In theory and in practice, the Philippines is indeed a democratic country.
Elections in the Philippines is relatively free and fair, although there have been several reported cases of election-related violence. One of which was the massacre of over 50 people in Maguindanao, a province in the Mindanao region. This was the biggest political and election-related scandal that happened in years. A politician running for the position of governor was in a convoy with his family, and members of the media, were allegedly brought to an isolated area where they were killed and then buried. The testimonies obtained from the state witnesses suggest that it was the political rival of the late politician who plotted the event. During elections, police checkpoints are prominent, imposing gun and alcohol bans during the entire election period. What happened in the province of Maguindanao, apparently, is only an isolated case because there have been no reported cases of election-related violence in majority of the country’s provinces.
The Philippines has once been dubbed as the sick man of Asia, due to the recent economic struggles that it faced, even before the global economic crisis in 2009. However, after imposing political, social, and economic reforms, a steady and significant growth, at least in terms of GDP, has been witnessed. The Philippines has already been included in the list of tiger or the rising economies of Asia, due to its resilience even a few years after the global economic crisis, which significantly slowed the growth rate of even the largest of economies. It recently received an investment grade rating from an international financial rating institution, Fitch.
Corruption remains to be one of the biggest problems in the government. This is why one of the focuses of the current administration is the eradication of political officials who have been tied with activities that may be categorized as corrupt and politically unethical. One of the strongest evidences of the current administration’s effort in reaching this goal was the impeachment of the former Chief Justice, Renato Corona, and his termination as Chief Justice.
The Philippines is a democratic country that has a long history of colonization, wars, and internal conflicts. It was once dubbed as the sick man of Asia but has regained its composure as one of the Tiger economies in the region. The government permits the various private media firms to exercise their freedom of speech and the same principle applies to its citizens. The Philippines is a relatively peaceful country, the only problem so far is the corruption, which although not that high, impedes the growth and development of the country.
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