BMI Research has downgraded the short-term political risk index score for the Philippines to reflect the heightened risk of political instability in the country, the unit of the Fitch Group said in a report Monday.
Over the coming quarters, more political infighting and uncertainty in the Philippines are also expected, BMI said.
“The ‘policy-making process’ and ‘security/external threats’ components have been lowered to reflect the
growing divisions within the government, disagreement between the government and the Catholic Church, as well as Duterte’s non-adherence to established inter-governmental commitments,” it explained.
As a result, the Philippines’ short-term political risk index score was downgraded to 63.5 (out of 100) from 64.6, the report said.
BMI believes the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima on drug-related charges on February 24 and the four other senators who were purged from their respective positions on February 27, are likely to raise the risk of political instability in the country.
De Lima was arrested on allegations she took part in the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison while she was the Justice secretary under the then-administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“De Lima has been a strong critic of President Duterte’s war on drugs which has resulted in more than 7,000 deaths, mostly of suspected drug users and traffickers. Earlier on, she also launched a human rights investigation into the extra judicial killings that have taken place since Duterte took office,” BMI noted.
Three days later, four other senators were stripped of their positions via a motion by Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao.
“The highest profile case was the ouster of Franklin Drilon of the Liberal Party who held the pro-tempore position (second most powerful position in the senate),” BMI said.
Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino and Francis Pangilinan were stripped of their education and agricultural committee chairmanships, respectively, while Liberal Party ally Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan was removed as head of the health committee.
“All four legislators who were removed had previously backed Senator de Lima who has been a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs,” BMI pointed out.
“Although the head of the senate Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd insisted that the shakeup was not an attempt to quell opposition dissent to the president, we believe the episode could be politically motivated, potentially leading to more political infighting and uncertainty over the coming quarters,” it added.
BMI also cited reports saying the Liberal Party senators were divided from the rest of the Senate Majority on issues such as the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes Cemetery, the investigation of corruption at the Bureau of Immigration, the reintroduction of the death penalty, and the testimony of retired Davao police officer Arthur Lascañas on the existence of the Davao Death Squad.
BMI viewed the revamp in the senate leadership, combined with the resignation of Vice President Leonor Robredo from her cabinet position in December, are likely indicative of growing disapproval with President Duterte’s policies and approach.
“Given Duterte’s ‘strongman’ leadership style and his propensity to act out of consensus with political norms, we note that this could lead to more opposition from members and allies of the Liberal Party within the government, potentially leading to more infighting and uncertainty, which could disrupt policy formation and enactment,” it said.
The downgrade also comes amid renewed criticism (after months of silence) from the Catholic Church, which still wields notable political influence in a country where more than 85 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.
“Although the church has less clout than in the past (due to the breakup of the Manila Archdiocese in 2003), we believe that this could still cause Duterte to lose some popular support, potentially swaying more politicians and officials to the opposition,” it said.
BMI recalled that the Roman Catholic Church in February slammed Duterte’s war on drugs in a sermon delivered during Sunday mass, marking its strongest opposition to the headline-grabbing flagship policy of the president.
It emphasized that the influence of the Catholic Church should not be underestimated, considering that it helped topple Marcos during the People Power Revolution in 1986 by appealing to public in support in favor of rebel forces.
“Additionally, the successful call for the resignation of President Joseph Estrada in January 2001 over allegations of corruption was supported by the Catholic Church,” it added.