Philippines Public Policy


Current policy

Philippines is a country located in the region of Southeastern Asia. See abbreviation for Philippines. Rodrigo Duterte, former mayor of the southern city of Davao, became the president of the Philippines after winning big in the May 2016 elections. Duterte went to the election with promises to curb widespread crime. The new president quickly received international criticism for his tough methods in the fight against drug trafficking. From his entry into power on June 30, 2016, until the end of 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated that around 12,000 people had been killed in his “war on drugs”.

Already during the spring 2016 election campaign, Duterte, who was running for PDP-Laban, had promised power to fight corruption and high crime. The result would already be felt after three to six months, he said, and not even leading politicians, military or business leaders would get away if it turned out that they were involved in the drug trade. He referred to his many years as mayor of Davao in Mindanao. Under his rule, the city was transformed from one of the most violent in the country into one of the safest. Even then, however, he received extensive criticism from human rights organizations for, among other things, extrajudicial executions. In September 2016, he said he had misjudged the major drug problems in the country, and extended his “campaign” for another six months.

  • Countryaah: Country facts and history of Philippines, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.

Duterte’s tough playing and hard methods, according to some analysts, were very much about his need to get a political platform in Manila. Coming from Mindanao, he lacked the economic and political networks in the metropolitan area, within both the state administration and the defense forces and the judiciary, which he needed to carry through his policies. In a country made up of as many islands as the Philippines, it is also easy to smuggle drugs and weapons and to carry goods that are not taxed. Out in the country, local big landlords and oligarchs often rule without much intervention from Manila. In addition, for many years, a series of violent conflicts have been hampering development, especially in rural areas. It’s all about left rebels (see Left Rebellion) and several armed Muslim groups in the islands of Mindanao and Jolo in the south (see Muslim separatists).

The new president was considered to be a relatively progressive line on social issues and religious tolerance. He could reach the electorate by playing on his simple background, far from the privileged upbringing that many of his opponents had in the presidential election. Duterte’s clear victory in the election gave him a strong popular mandate. In addition, his position in Congress was strengthened as many members elected to the Liberal Party skipped over to his governing alliance, the Coalition for Change. Besides PDP Laban consisted of Nationalist (NP), Nationalist people coalition (NPC), National unit portion (NUP) and several smaller portions.

Behind Duterte’s electoral victory there was a strong dissatisfaction that so many Filipinos are still living in deep poverty, despite the economy growing rapidly in recent years, poor roads, shortages in electricity supply, high crime rates, various governments’ inability to get something done and a political elite that often utilizing their position to shoe themselves.

Duterte’s campaign organization was also adept at getting its message across social media and did not hesitate to spread false information if it could benefit them. Even later, President Duterte has used these channels to win support for controversial proposals, blackmail political opponents, and make threats against those who criticize his policies.


One of the president’s foremost critics, Senator Leila de Lima, who in 2016 led a Senate committee investigating Duterte’s drug war, was jailed in 2017 for allegedly smuggling drugs into a prison during his time as Justice Minister. The former Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno, is also at risk of being brought before the national court. This since she started an investigation into Duterte’s financial assets, he has not stated how large they are despite the fact that he is legally obliged to do so. Both women have been the victims of online throwing campaigns. Even Vice President Leni Robredo, of the Liberal Party, has openly criticized some of Duterte’s policies and left the government as early as 2016.

Peace talks with rebels

When Duterte took office as president on June 30, 2016, he promised major reforms to the country’s political system, including more power being moved from Manila to the provinces. The goal was for the Philippines to be transformed into a federal state. Like so many of his representatives, he said he wanted to make peace with both the communist movement NDF-CPP-NPA and the Muslim separatists. Peace talks with the left movement started in August 2016 (see Calendar), but progress was low and by the end of 2017, it seemed as if the talks had failed, and Duterte raised the tone of the Communists he accused of being terrorists.

Duterte’s representative as president, Benigno Aquino, had concluded a peace deal with Milf, one of the largest Muslim separatist groups in Mindanao, which included establishing a new autonomous region, Bangsamoro, and which would have greater powers than it did. the current ARMM region has. However, Aquino had failed to get the agreement approved in Congress. That work resumed. In addition to Milf, local and provincial authorities as well as representatives of non-Muslim indigenous peoples would be allowed to participate in the drafting of new legislative proposals.

A tougher line was taken by the new government against one of the smaller rebel groups on Mindanao and Jolo, the Islamist Abu Sayyaf, who had stepped up his violence from July 2015 (when the group claimed to have joined the Islamic State (IS) terrorist movement. However, say the group’s members seem to be more interested in making money through kidnappings than ideological issues, from July 2015 to August 2016, Abu Sayyaf had kidnapped 38 foreigners and even more Filipinos. In early 2016, the Islamist group received roughly $ 2 million in ransom to release five Malaysian sailors.

In the spring of 2017, the situation was further sped up when a new Islamist group, Maute, which also claimed to have ties to IS, took the city of Marawi in Mindanao in May. Only in October of that year had government forces been able to regain control of Marawi (see Muslim separatists). An emergency permit was announced at Mindanao in May 2017. In December of the same year, it was extended to the end of 2018.

Thousands have been killed in the “war on drugs”

Several observers had thought that the harsh tone used by Duterte during the election campaign would be alleviated after the election, but that was not the case. He made a number of controversial statements, targeting both domestic players and the Philippines’ foreign partners. Most attention was given to the hard methods the government used to overcome drug-related crime. From July 1, 2016, to mid-September of the same year, according to police data cited by multiple media, over 3,000 people, drug addicts, addicts and others had been killed in the president’s “war on drugs”. About a third of them had been shot dead by police on the grounds that they had resisted in connection with the arrests. Other murders are suspected death patrols from so-called vigilantes lie behind. Over 10,000 people had been arrested at the same time, Calendar). The number of deaths continued to rise, although no one knew exactly how many victims were required.

Duterte received harsh criticism from both the UN and domestic and international human rights organizations and the influential Catholic Church in the Philippines. The US threatened to withdraw part of its assistance to the country if human rights were not respected.

At the same time, Duterte was popular with its own population. He managed to convince many poor Filipinos that he would fight for the better, that he understood their problems. Many also supported his hard line against drug trafficking and other crimes, although a clear majority believes that suspected perpetrators should not be killed but taken alive.

His hands-on intervention to help Filipinos who lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia to return to their homeland was seen as part of this. Duterte also went to the airport himself to welcome them home. About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they send home to their families has made the Philippine economy grow. At the same time, there were rumors that the military was planning to take power through a coup.

At the beginning of 2017, Duterte seemed to have taken on some of the criticism of his drug war, and he blunted his rhetoric, ordering the anti-drug forces to be dissolved and the police purged of corruption. According to analysts, it was the Church’s increasingly harsh criticism of the extra-judicial executions along with the aftermath that Jee Ick-joo, a South Korean businessman, had been murdered inside the national police headquarters and his family had been squeezed for money. Previously, a mayor from a small town had been killed in the same building. The criticism of Duterte’s “drug war” rose again in the fall of 2017, in connection with police firing and killing an unarmed teenager. Responsibility for the fight against drugs was transferred in October 2017 to the anti-drug authority PDE, but only a few months it went back to the police.

President Duterte sought to distance himself from the United States, which he urged to withdraw his military advisers from Mindanao, while mitigating the tone of China in the dispute over the Sprat Islands in the South China Sea (see Foreign Policy and Defense). He also talked about establishing closer contacts with Russia. Since Donald Trump took over as US President in 2017, contacts between the governments of Manila and Washington improved, not least since US special forces assisted the Philippine army in the fight against Islamists in Marawi (see above). After the ICC launched a preliminary investigation of Duterte as a result of the abuses that occurred in his war on drugs, in March 2018, the President decided that the Philippines should leave the ICC (the country formally left the court on March 17, 2019) (see Calendar).

In early 2018, the first steps were taken to possibly rewrite the country’s constitution. Critics fear that the section that prevents the president from running for re-election will be abandoned and pave the way for Duterte to remain in office as his current term expires in 2022. The draft new constitution that an advisory committee presented in July 2018 would, if it is assumed, paving the way for the president to be re-elected (see Calendar). The following month, Duterte makes another controversial statement, saying that unless he himself sat in power, it would be best if the country were governed by a dictator like Ferdinand Marcos.

The mid-term elections in May 2019 became a clear success for Duterte and his allies who now also took control of the Senate. That meant it would be easier for the president to push through constitutional changes (see Calendar), but at the same time, the president seemed to have lost interest in this and Congress has had a hard time agreeing on how to proceed. There are also many disputes around the draft that were presented in Christmas 2018 (see Calendar). It was also speculated that the president was seriously ill.

Read more about the ongoing development in the Calendar.

Read more about the Philippines in UI’s publication Foreign magazine:
Gilla Duterte or risk being attacked in social media (2018-10-16)


Official name

Republic of Pilipinas / Republic of the Philippines


republic, unitary state

Head of State

President Rodrigo Duterte (2016–)

Head of government

President Rodrigo Duterte (2016–)

Most important parties with mandates in the last election

PDP-Laban 82, Nationalist Party (NP) 42, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) 36, National Unity Party (NUP) 25, Liberal Party 18,, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) 11, Lakas-CMD 11, and others (2019) 1

Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections

Liberal Party 115/6, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) 42/3, National Unity Party (NUP) 23/0, Nationalist Party (NP) 24/3, United National Alliance (UNA) 11/4, Lakas Kampi CMD 4, PDP-Laban 3, with several (2016) 2


69% in the 2016 parliamentary election, 78% in the 2016 presidential election

Upcoming elections

presidential and parliamentary elections 2022

  1. refers to seats in the House of Representatives
    2. refers to seats in the House of Representatives / Senate (some of the senators were elected in 2013)Sources

Muslim separatists

In the late 1960s, the separatist movement took Moro’s National Liberation Front (MNLF) to arms to demand an independent Muslim state in the south. Since then, new and more militant groups have been added. Despite a new peace agreement with today’s largest group of Moro’s Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), it is difficult to see any end to the conflict that is estimated to have claimed over 150,000 lives.

Ever since colonial times there has been tensions between Muslims and Christians in the southern Philippines. When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, there were two Muslim sultanates in Mindanao and the Sulu Islands in the south. The Sultanate engaged in lively trade in the region. The Philippines became a Spanish colony in 1570, but the colonizers never quite succeeded in defeating the Muslims as they called it fun.

When the United States took power in 1896, landless Filipinos from Luzon and Visayas in the north were attracted to the southern islands by land promises. Even after independence in 1946, Christians moved from the north to Mindanao. In the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps as many as one million people came. The settlers often got the best ground, which created contradictions between them and the much poorer fun. In 1969, the Muslims were in the majority on Mindanao, but today they are in the minority (see also Population and Languages). Mindanao is rich in oil and natural gas as well as gold, copper, nickel, manganese, zinc and iron, but the unrest has meant that they are only extracted to a limited extent. The residents, mainly in the Muslim areas, are also poorer than the rest of the population (see Social conditions).

Several separatist movements

The separatist movement Moro’s National Liberation Front (MNLF) took up arms in the late 1960s to demand an independent Muslim state in the south. Behind the uprising was also a dissatisfaction that the region had been financially neglected by the Manila government. In 1976 and 1996 the government made peace with the MNLF, which had then given up the demands for independence. Eventually, an autonomous region, ARM (Automonous Region of Muslim Minadanao), was formed in five provinces of Mindanao and the Sulu Islands.

But the agreements did not lead to peace. Over the years, the MNLF split and one of the outbreak groups, Moro’s Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), grew larger than the MNLF. Milf attaches more importance to religion than MNLF which is essentially a secular movement. Moderate forces within Milf in 2003 waived the requirement for full independence and in 2010 initiated peace talks with the government, which resulted in several sub-agreements (see below). Milf is also divided into factions, some of which oppose the agreements. These include Bangsamoro’s Islamic Freedom Fighters (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Biff) who broke out of Milf as early as 2008.

Ideological issues are considered to play a minor role within Milf since founder Salamat Hashim died in 2003.

A significantly smaller group, Abu Sayyaf (the sword of God), has committed a series of terrorist attacks both in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country. Abu Sayyaf’s goal is to establish a conservative Muslim state. Several of the founders participated in the resistance to the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. The group is also behind kidnappings of Filipinos and foreigners and has murdered several people it has taken as hostage. Abu Sayyaf is on the US list of terrorist organizations. Much indicates that Abu Sayyaf has in recent years been more interested in making money on kidnappings than on ideological issues.

Abu Sayyaf and Milf factions are accused by the United States, for example, of having contacts with foreign terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah. In recent years, factions within Abu Sayyaf have claimed to have ties to the Islamic State (IS) (also called Dawla Islamiya). According to some analysts, it was mainly a way to get more attention and maybe be able to get money from IS, others talked about increased support for IS and other Islamist violence groups. In the fall of 2018, it is estimated that there are between 40 and 100 IS members in the country.

Gradually, the boundaries between the Muslim rebel groups have become increasingly fluid. There is also no clear difference between movements with political goals and purely criminal groups. The rebel groups have no strong support from the Muslim civilian population. In addition, conflicts in Mindanao are complicated by disputes between various powerful clans. The influential Amptuan clan is suspected of massacring some 50 people in 2009 (see Modern History). Both rebel groups and the military have been drawn to and from the clash conflicts in the south.

There are also a number of small groups, some of whom are former rebels and former government soldiers who support themselves in kidnappings and other crimes. The left guerrilla NPA is also active in Mindanao (see Left Uprising).

It is unclear how many lives the conflicts have claimed, but according to the latest newspaper data, there may be more than 150,000 deaths.

Peace processes with obstacles

Ever since the 1970s, new outbreaks of violence have been interspersed with peace negotiations between various governments and separatist groups. When the talks between Joseph Estrada’s government and Milf got bogged down in 2000, the military launched an offensive against the separatists. The discussions with Milf were resumed under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s reign from 2001 to 2010 and a settlement that would give Muslims autonomy in several provinces appeared to be within reach. Some of the provinces affected had a Christian population and their leaders protested against the settlement. The Supreme Court decided that the extension of the autonomous zone ARMM should be postponed. Milf rebels responded by attacking villages and towns with a predominantly Christian population and gradually the fighting intensified. Milf’s leaders claimed that outbreak groups from the rebel movement were behind the attacks.

After Benigno Aquino assumed power in 2010, new peace talks between the government and Milf began under Malaysian mediation. In October 2011, a backlash came when new fighting broke out between Milf and the government army. For the first time in several years, the military bombed areas around the city of Zamboanga on Mindanao. A few months later, the negotiations resumed and in 2012 the parties had agreed on a framework for a peace agreement. According to this, a new autonomous region would be formed to replace the ARMM.

However, not all Milf factions supported the peace plan. The main resistance came from the breakout group Biff who stood outside the settlement. The peace agreement was adopted in stages, but new fighting broke out in 2013 between the government army and Biff. Both Biff and other armed groups, such as the Khilafah Islamiyah movement, carried out attacks on the civilian population.

In addition, in early September 2013, fighting broke out between the government army and a faction of the MNLF near Zamboanga on Mindanao, and the rebels took nearly 200 civilians hostage. Within the MNLF, there was a dissatisfaction that the peace agreement that the group concluded with the government in 1996 had not led to the autonomy one had expected. At the end of September, the military said that all civilians held hostage in Zamboanga had managed to escape or had been liberated by the army. About 300 MNLF rebels were said to have been given up or taken prisoner by the military. Over 200 people had been killed and at least 100,000 people were reported to have escaped the fighting.

In January 2014, Milf and the government took the next step in the peace process, when, among other things, the separatist movement agreed to surrender its weapons to an independent commission. However, some weapons would be kept by Milf to participate in the joint security patrols that the guerrillas and the government would establish. Under the agreement, which was formally signed in March of that year, the government would retain responsibility for foreign policy, defense, monetary policy and trade, while the new regional government would be responsible for agriculture, urban planning, the labor market and the environment. A new regional assembly with 50 members would also be created. The agreement would also guarantee that Muslims and non-Muslims have the same rights.

It was hoped that a final agreement would be finalized before Aquino’s term expired in 2016 and that Milf would have been transformed into a political party during that time. But in order to take effect, the peace plan must first be approved by both chambers of Congress and in a referendum. It became impossible since 44 special police officers, seven civilians and an unknown number of rebels were killed in fighting with Milf (and Biff) in January 2015 (see Calendar). After that, Aquino failed to get Congress to pass the necessary law.


After the regime change in 2016, when Rodrigo Duterte took over the presidential post, Aquino’s bill has been reworked. In July 2018, the Congress passed the new law which meant that Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the Muslim Mindanao (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, BARMM) would be formed. According to the law, the region must have a democratic government, a people-elected regional parliament, and an independent judiciary. The regional government will also receive a larger share of the revenues from natural resources in the region than previously received. In addition, the region will receive a grant of the equivalent of $ 90 million to implement all parts of the peace agreement. However, several referenda would be conducted to decide which districts to include in the autonomous region. The first of them was held in January 2019,

The idea is that the region will gradually be able to expand from the core area around the city of Marawi. However, several observers warn that the process may be lengthy given the difficult conflicts that exist, not least among the clan-led clans. After the referendum, Milf has promised to disarm almost a third of its forces, while the others will give up their weapons when the Bangsamoro region has started functioning. Some of the Milf rebels have been promised employment within the police or the new region’s security forces, but far from all.

In February 2019, a new transition board for Bangsamoro was formed under the leadership of Milf’s chairman Murad Ebrahim.

State of emergency in Mindanao

When Ebrahim came to power, the state of emergency prevailed throughout the Mindanao area. It was introduced in May 2017 after a hitherto unknown group, Maute, who claimed to have ties to IS, had taken Marawi. Most of the residents managed to escape, but hundreds became trapped between Islamists and government forces, or were taken hostage by Maute.

Some observers said that Maute seemed to have brought with him a younger generation of Muslims who were dissatisfied that the separatist groups had achieved so little during all years of armed struggle. The Islamist group led two Maute brothers, who belonged to an influential family in Marawi and who collaborated with Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who had transitioned to IS. Biff is also believed to have been involved in the siege of Marawi.

The rebels held Marawi until the fall of 2017. According to official records, 920 rebels, including Isnilon Hapilon and brothers Maure, 165 government soldiers and at least 45 civilians, were killed during the five-month siege. The state of emergency in the region has been extended twice, most recently until the end of 2019.

Follow the ongoing development of the Calendar.

left Rebellion

For many years, a leftist uprising has been ongoing in the Philippines. It has been led by the Communist Party and the armed branch of the New People’s Army (NPA) since the 1970s. Struggles have been interspersed with periods of relatively calm and negotiations for peace are ongoing. The conflict between the government and the NPA is estimated to have cost more than 40,000 people, of whom 3,000 have been killed since 2013.

The harsh conditions in the countryside, with uncertain rents and competition for the land, had already led to several minor rebellions in the early 1900s. From the 1930s the revolts became better organized and new left movements emerged. A communist party PKP was founded in 1930 and during the Second World War, the so-called squatting guerrillas opposed the Japanese occupants.

After the war, tensions rose between the large landowners and the peasant population. The Hawks began a riot that was crushed in the early 1950s.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed branch The New People’s Army (NPA) was formed in the late 1960s when a Maoist group broke out of the PKP, which no longer wanted to use violence to achieve its goals. The CPP / NPA saw an armed uprising as the only opportunity to overthrow the then Marcos regime. Support for Communist guerrillas grew rapidly since Marcos introduced the Exclusionary Laws in 1972. The CPP sought to widen its base through cooperation with other broader leftist movements, including through an umbrella organization National Democratic Front (NDF).

The Communist Party was the strongest in the 1970s, and the NPA mostly consisted of 25,000-30,000 people, but by the beginning of the 2010s, the number of members was estimated to have decreased to 3,000-5,000. The party and its armed branch have subsequently been divided into several factions.

In the mid-1980s, guerrillas were active in some 60 provinces, where CCP / NPA had built up a kind of shadow government in poor areas.

In 2002, the US and the EU put CPP / NPA on their lists of terrorist organizations. The NPA and other leftist rebels target their attacks on politicians, military, police and civilians as well as pressure companies on money. At the same time, the military and the police have been pushing hard against NPA members but also people suspected of supporting the guerrillas. Struggles have been followed by quieter periods. On and off, the government has negotiated with NDF for peace, but the talks have not yielded any concrete results.

In October 2010, then-President Benigno Aquino formed a group whose mission was to try to start formal peace talks. In February 2011, formal consultations were initiated in Oslo, but despite reports of some progress in 2012, the peace process was stalled after the government did not want to release 17 NDF members. In March 2014, Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Austria were arrested, who according to the military led both the CPP and the NPA. In May of that year, another high-ranking NPA leader was arrested.

New peace talks will begin a few months after President Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016. A first round of talks between the left movement and the government was held in Oslo at the end of August that year. At the beginning of 2017, however, it seemed as if the peace process had stalled and the talks that would have been held in February were canceled. In July of that year, Duterte said that no talks will be held as NPA continues to squeeze business operations on money and carry out new ambushes against security forces. In November, the president declared that he was interrupting all attempts to broker peace and that he had later put the CPP and NPA on a list of terrorist organizations. After that, the guerrilla attack on mining companies in Mindanao and Visayas increased, among other things.