The Failed States Index and the Philippines: A Simple Yardstick for Progress

Although the news was predictably overlooked by the local media – bad news not being something that fits well into the euphoria of pre-inaugural navel-gazing – Foreign Policy magazine and The Fund for Peace recently published their sixth annual Failed States Index, place the Philippines in the 51st spot on the list of 177 nations, up two spots from 2009.

Since the FSI ranks countries from the perspective of “most failed” (Somalia has occupied the top spot for the last several years), the change in the Philippines’ position from 2009 represents progress in the wrong direction. It is part of a depressing trend as well; the country made significant improvements from the 2005 to the 2006 FSI, but has declined ever since. That is certainly not welcome news, but it would be wrong to ignore the value of it; and given what it implies about the outgoing administration of Gloria Arroyo, it’s a bit surprising that the incoming president and his team have not taken notice. There might, however, be a good reason not to – at least from their point of view. To understand why and to understand how the FSI can be helpful to the rest of the country, a brief primer on how the Index works is in order:

What is a Failed State?

The classical definition of a State comes from the early 20th-century German sociologist Max Weber, who described the State as an entity which holds “a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.” In the wake of last year’s Maguindanao Massacre, I made the assertion that based on Weber’s definition, it is appropriate to regard the Philippines as already having failed as a state. Other conditions that can be indicative of failure, according to The Fund for Peace, are the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

Clearly, the Philippines as a State has already lost or is losing the fight to maintain control over these four essential conditions. Warlordism, persistent insurgency, and largely uncontrollable crime prevent the State from having Weber’s “monopoly” over the use of force. Collective decision-making, represented by the conduct and output of the Legislature, is inconsistent at best, as is the provision of public services.  Thanks in large part to a president whose extended term in office was characterized by a distinctly international outlook – sometimes to the detriment of domestic concerns – the Philippines can at least claim a “could be worse” position in terms of interacting as a sovereign entity with the rest of the world, but no one could rationally claim that the Philippines has demonstrated any sort of global or even regional leadership. It is perhaps for this last reason that The Fund for Peace, more generous than I, places the Philippines among the group of nations that are only “in danger” of failing. But the Philippines has occupied that place every year the FSI has been published, and as the FfP points out, “States can fail at varying rates… over different time periods.”

What the Index Measures:

The FSI measures 12 social, political, economic, and military indicators, assigning each a score from 0 (highly stable) to 10 (highly unstable). The highest possible score, then, is 120, representing absolute failure of the state; in the 2010 FSI, Somalia tops the charts with a score of 114.3, while placid Norway rounds out the list with a score of 18.7. The data used to develop the scores for the individual metrics is gather using a computer program which conducts a Boolean logic search of over 90,000 open-source articles and journals; in essence, the number of times a particular ‘problem’ in any country is mentioned in these sources determines how high the score for the appropriate metric is. The Index represents the assessments from the year prior to the report’s publication; the first in 2005, for example, covered 2004, while the latest version describes the circumstances of 2009.

After promising progress between 2005-2006, the stability of the Philippines has declined steadily

Particular areas of concern for the Philippines – where the score for the individual metric was 7 or higher – are:

  • Demographic Pressures: The Philippines has a high population density relative to food supply and other basic resources.
  • Group Grievance/Group Paranoia: Continuing armed insurgencies by Communists and Muslim separatists and exclusion or marginalization of other social groups – such as indigenous peoples – create deep divisions within the country.
  • Chronic, Sustained Human Flight: In the Philippines’ case, this is for economic rather than political reasons, and the country is unique among the world in so comprehensively institutionalizing out-migration.
  • Uneven Economic Development Along Group Lines: This is manifested not only along ethnic and regional lines in the under-development of Mindanao compared to the rest of the country, but generally throughout the entire Philippines along economic class lines.
  • Delegitimization of the State: This is caused by massive and endemic corruption or profiteering by the ruling elites, and resistance of the ruling elites to transparency, accountability and political representation.
  • Suspension or Arbitrary Application of the Rule of Law, and Widespread Violation of Human Rights: In addition to the emergence of authoritarian or martial rule, this also includes harassment of the media, politicization of the judiciary, the internal use of the military for political ends, and public repression of political opponents.
  • Security Apparatus Operating as a “State Within a State”: Emergence of rival militias, guerrilla forces or private armies in an armed struggle or protracted violent campaigns against state security forces or each other.
  • Factionalization of the Elites: Fracturing of the ruling elites and state institutions along group or partisan lines, to the point that it presents an obstacle to basic functions of the State.

What the FSI Means, and Why the Aquino Administration Might Hope No One Notices It:

The most striking feature of the Failed States Index is in how it is developed. The assessments of the individual indicators and their resulting overall scores are not the work of academicians, but are compilations of vast numbers of global perceptions; among the 90,000 sources are media reports, government and academic studies, commentaries from pundits at all levels, and a whole host of published statistics, all from both inside and outside the countries on the list. The FSI in a very real sense the view the world – and the country itself – has of the Philippines.

From the FfP Website: How the world sees the Philippines. (Noel Celis AFP/Getty Images)

The FSI score and ranking for the Philippines has been, since the launch of the program, a description of the global impression of the country under the stewardship of Gloria Arroyo, which, suffice to say, is quite unfavorable. It might not be accurate or fair to lay all the problems of instability at Arroyo’s feet, but the personality-driven nature of Philippine politics almost makes it inevitable that someone will; after all, GMA herself, like most Pinoy politicos, has never been unwilling to take credit for progress for which she was not directly responsible, so she should likewise accept responsibility for the failures that occurred under her watch. Having based much of his ascension to the Presidency on presenting himself as the antithesis of Arroyo, Noynoy Aquino cannot hope to escape having his feet held to the same fire and be subjected to the same judgment. The FSI provides a comparative, quantitative basis for making that judgment: progress means problems are eliminated or reduced, which in turn means they find their way into published media less often, which in turn results in lower, “more stable” scores in the trouble-indicating metrics. Stagnant or higher scores in the coming years mean that progress is not being made to reduce the risks, many of which go right to the heart of Aquino’s “anti-corruption” mantra. And whether up or down, the consistency of the scoring framework permits the degree of change to be assessed as well.

Since he will not become President until noon tomorrow, Aquino will have at least half an excuse (or conversely, only be able to take half the credit) for the outcome of next year’s FSI. From 2012 until 2017, however, Aquino will be his own bogeyman; thanks to the FSI, he and the entire globe will be able to know just exactly to what degree.


About bkritz

I'm a writer, and I do things my own way. That might sound cool to you, unless you're one of the people who actually knows me, in which case you're probably shaking your head in exasperation at the depth of that understatement.
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36 Responses to The Failed States Index and the Philippines: A Simple Yardstick for Progress

  1. GabbyD says:

    “, it’s a bit surprising that the incoming president and his team have not taken notice.”

    how do you know they havent noticed it?

    • BenK says:

      Do you think they have?

      • GabbyD says:

        i have no reason not to think so.

      • BongV says:

        Given their propensity for attacking Gloria, why haven’t they used these – if as you say, they have no reason not to think so?

        What do you think?

        a) they noticed but its beyond their comprehension?

        b) they noticed but don’t want people to know because they too will now be judged based on these metrics – and they don’t want that – they just want blind adoration

        c) they noticed – but it’s not a priority

        d) they actually did not notice.

        your – reason, just because you think so – IS NOT ENOUGH!!!

      • BenK says:

        The fact remains, GD, that it has not been acknowledged in any fashion by N/A or his political or media mouthpieces. And the fact that it tends to make his predecessor look bad in a third-party, empirical way makes the silence puzzling. One could see this report being very spin-worthy giving the tone of N/A’s campaign, so….humor me, and answer a question for once instead of asking one: What do you think N/A would say about this, and why do you think he has remained silent?

      • sarcasmgasm says:

        they’re too preoccupied with their street party.

      • GabbyD says:


        the universe of things they dont discuss over the the past week is huge. ur implying they dont know it just coz make a media announcement about it is strange.

        in fact, one hopes they have better things to do now than to make announcements in the form of “btw, another statistic we should look at is _____” which, while interesting, SURELY isnt top 3 things he/they want to do now.

    • Anonylol says:


      They have better things to do than address the problem of the Philippines being a failed state?

      Did Godzilla get tired of Japan and come here or something?

    • HalleluyahHymen says:

      … a DUMB question… from who else…

      so what’s the difference between DUMB and STUPID?


      FnCK 1. Philippines is a nation ruled by collusions of oligarchs.

      FnCK 2. The Government with its structure and its resources is administered by a collusion of ruling oligarchs… in the present setup… it’s the Liberal Party, Makati Business Club, Lopezes, Ayalas… etc…

      FnCK 3. According to the article, “The FSI measures 12 social, political, economic, and military indicators, assigning each a score from 0 (highly stable) to 10 (highly unstable). ” Ergo, these indicators or factors are VERY NOTICEABLE to the CLANS… Instability is used as a leverage to get into power… KUNG WALANG CORRUPT… WALANG MAHIRAP…

      If you can’t get the logic Gabby… magbigti ka na lang.

  2. concerned_citizen says:

    An oligarch will never understand the plight of the poor.Being raised in a life of privilege and wealth and being groomed up to be proud of a legacy NA can never truly be sure if it this legacy is indeed true.NA will remain indifferent to the plight of the poor.Let’s see if he can learn from the mistakes of the first “epic-fail” Aquino administration.

  3. Morga says:

    BenK, if the FSI score is derived from compilations of media reports, what impact do you think the unbridled Arroyo-bashing of Pinoy media have on the Philippine score? The 2005-2006 turning point when the score dropped coincides with the time the media turned on Arroyo.

    • BenK says:

      I don’t think the Pinoy Media on its own can influence the score to that extent, good or bad. As I understand it from weeding through their extensive explanation of the methodology, they tend to handicap the native media to a small degree to counteract bias. So for example, a co-opted media supporting N/A will have only a small positive impact on the score, and only if the content of their reports is relevant to the search terms. The source pool is so large that even if the entire Philippine Media made a sustained effort to report the opposite of what other sources were saying, it wouldn’t have that much effect.

      There is also a large statistical component involved as well, which is taken from non-media sources. Out-migration is one good simple example; not only are the Philippines’ departure stats gathered, but the arrival stats in other countries as well, and these combined are given a much heavier weight than news reports or non-statistical studies and commentary about the phenomenon.

      The turning point in the score did coincide with the Media turning on GMA, but remember that at the same time, the ‘failed coup attempt’ and her ‘surviving the impeachment attempt’ also became regular appendices to any news story outside the country that had her name on it. The local media contributed to that (and the fact that many news wires were picking up and repeating the same things is also accounted for), but it took a global perception to have a significant impact.

  4. sarcasmgasm says:

    hmmm… the US should be in the orange zone imho. its foreign policies are quite questionable especially when you have a VP like biden

  5. ulong pare says:

    … daaaang

    …. the outgoing and incoming traposakals aka ladrones garapales are one and the same… there will be no change… it is a continuation of failure after failure…

    … they have been in power since i was in diapers (my ass is just too sensitive for basahan)… and they have not done diddly squat about the country…

    … flipland’s administration/management is a recylced trash…

    … as long as flip gung gongs/squats comprise the majority of the “electorate”, flipland will be a sump…

    … ferpekt for me bekos, i have ‘sang tambaks na slaves to do yardwork…


  6. ulong pare says:

    … daaang

    … the outgoing prez, ate glo, is LAKI SA NAKAW oooopsie laki sa layaw…

    … ditto with the incoming prez, abnoy, is LAKI SA NAKAW oooopsie laki sa layaw…

    … both are woven with the same thread… pekeng devout katolickdicks… mahilig lang sa breakfast sa shang ri la…

    … hoy prez abnoy gung gong, where’s my invite for the first prusisyon de gung gongs?

  7. Hyden Toro says:

    We will continue to decline. This is for sure. We have an incompetent President; very dependent on people to make good decisions and choices. These are also the factors:

    (1) No viable plans or programs ever formulated to remedy our situation. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his “NEW DEAL” , to remedy the Depression in the thirties. He had the “LAND LEASE” program to win the War in Europe in World War II. Noynoy Aquino has the “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” An out of this world idea.

    (2) Continued increase of our population. No program to curtail the population growth. While, there is no food self sufficiency program.

    (3) Attracting foreign companies to invest here. With corruption and rebellion remain rampant. Who in his right mind will come to invest in the Philippines. Investors have researchers. They delve deeply into the condition of the country, before they invest their money. They are not taken by slogans and news propagandas. These are intelligent people.

    (4) The continued draining of our skilled, educated people as OFWs. Me included, we immigrated because we cannot find good opportunities in our country. We are tired of the political nonsense. Some ran to the hills and became rebels. Some ran to foreign countries and became more educated with good opportunities offered to them. Some remained and became part of the nonsense.

    (5) Same people are joining the Noynoy Aquino’s regime. His economic adviser, is the same that advised Gloris Arroyo. ” The more things change. The more they remain the same.”

    Don’t be too much optomistic. We have a President who is an imbecile. We have Oligarchs in control. We have a Media that twists the real truth, like the “Norhth Korean” propaganda media. Their only difference: ours is a capitalist. The other is a communist. Same premise: to control the mindset of the people. So that, they will continue to rule by deceit.

    • NotMasochisticFilipino says:

      In that respect, its amazing how Gordon or even GMA is able to convince foreign investors to do business here in the country (yeah, I know Gordon is probably working more on tourism but hey, I think it still counts).

  8. ben says:

    Well, with today (June 30, 2010) being the start of a “Bagong Pilipinas” (as they would put it) i don’t think the FAIL stamp that the people have marked on themselves and this nation will be disappearing anytime soon. Let’s be ready for a yellow land!

    On a lighter note, check out this recent fail by our oh-so-awesome MEDIA!

    • Hyden Toro says:

      We have already a “Jaundiced View of our Reality”. Flashing the “L” sign by the Aquinoids will never solve our problems. Give them a finger instead. This is the right sign…

  9. noko says:

    what is new about that

    we always have been there

    give it a few more years then we shall join the ranks of somalia

  10. Pugot Ulo says:

    The Philippine ranking is pretty much accurate. Watch the video below and see what you guys think:

  11. Joe America says:


    Very enlightening read. The categories of concern run as a fine “to do” check-list for improvement. Any executive worth his salt would zero on each one and figure out how to make improvement. I don’t think President Aquino is a top-notch executive, but I would wager a six-pack of San Mig that the Philippines will fall in the ratings (show up as less corrupt) within three years by at least 5 places. No, make that a case.

    There are short-term fixes, and long term. Education must be a priority, for long term. Same with controlling the rampant overbirthing.

    • J.B. says:

      Overbirthing is a ton harder to address. Slump dwellers manufactures baby at a very alarming pace.

      Many midwifes who are required to assist delivery by hundreds can easily comply with their requirements by volunteering in a slump.

      Politicos love them to grow because they’re cheaper to vote-buy or they’re available as dime-a-dozen crowd-for-rent needed warm bodies during rallies against incumbents or legislative rulings.

    • BenK says:

      The ranking on the list is not really the benchmark, Joe, because all the other countries are moving up and down also. Look at the overall score instead: it is 87.1 now, and the best it was under the Arroyo administration was 79.2. If the Aquino administration can progressively lower the score from 87.1, that will be an indication of progress; if he can lower it below the 79.2, he will have justified the people’s acceptance of his message, because he will have done a better job than his predecessor (provided, of course, that doesn’t happen mid-term and then start going downhill again, like it did from 2006 to 2007).

    • UP nn grad says:

      It seems reasonable that Pinas is “better” than Egypt and Syria — both those countries have real-live corrupt dictatorships.

      If Pilipinas (#51/score=87) under Noynoy becomes like an Indonesia(#61/score=83); that’s some progress. But why not Noynoy to say we’re trying to be like Thailand (#81, score = 78.8). “Just as good as Thailand!!!”will be a great slogan for Pinas Tourism slogans. Are there Pinoys-in-Pinas who believe that Pilipinas can be just as good as Thailand? Can Noynoy leadership and the leadership of his Cabinet make Pilipinas “just as good as Thailand”?

      Then later, go for a bronze-medal — maybe Pinas can claim to be the Namibia (#100, score=74.5) of South East Asia. [But that sounds awful, thought. It should be an easier sell to say that Pilipinas is trying to be the Jamaica or the Brazil (score=67.4) of South East Asia.]

  12. J.B. says:

    I take notice Demographic Pressures on top of the list though I assume the list is not necessarily in order.

    There are just too many hungry mouths to feed and the church keep pressuring the government about stifling reproductive education to the point that policy makers need to ask the nod of the Church whether such wordings in their teaching manuals sounds “offensive”.

    Noy P.Noy is beholden to his great church. I don’t see the FSI on this category would lower down in his reign.

  13. J.B. says:

    > “Group Grievance/Group Paranoia”

    There is more to rebels group than just grievance and paranoia.

    There is also a spin-off desire to remain as they are. It has become a lucrative approach to earning monies from businesses and politicians.

    The millions flowing into their wallet is another dimension why no one is interested to lay down their weapons.

    For sure, a head-ache for the incumbent.

  14. Lilly says:

    [quote]Politicos love them to grow because they’re cheaper to vote-buy or they’re available as dime-a-dozen crowd-for-rent needed warm bodies during rallies against incumbents or legislative rulings.[/quote]
    Yes. Like Makati, for instance. Check out the slogan”GANITO KAMI SA MAKATI, SANA GANITO RIN SA BUONG PILIPINAS!” yet, never shows the homes along the riles in Makati in Binay’s TV ads.

    Sure, let’s have an extremely polarized country where the rich are very rich, and the poor extremely poor.

    I wouldn’t comment too much on Binay, but think about this: if your city mayor focuses more on doling handouts (libreng gamot, libreng tiket sa sinehan) rather than creating long-term solutions, you guys should all be wary. Dole outs do not make people self-sufficient. Dole outs only make people more dependent, and as such, will stay poor for the rest of their lives.

    Look at Makati. For all its revenue generated by the foreign businesses it fosters, the homes along the riles are still there, with people getting run over by trains from time to time.

    Ganito kami sa Makati.

    • Lilly says:

      woops. Meant as a response to J.B.’s reply to Joe America.

      • J.B. says:

        Better that way. It has no longer direct value to Joe’s original comment so better to have it quoted entirely separate.

    • Jon Abaca says:

      Makati is a half assed welfare state.

      The poor folks might get their free birthday cakes (which are supposedly over quoted) but they never get the nice jobs that get people in the middle class. Frozen molasses would move faster than the improvement of their quality of life.

      • Lilly says:

        Exactly. And we can see why: politicians want to keep these poor people beholden to them by ensuring that they stay poor for the rest of their lives, so they’d get a tangible, large number of votes every election.

        It’s a twisted win-win situation: politicians get brownie points whenever they give dole outs to the poor, while the poor will get their stomachs fed. Then they’ll go hungry again until the next good chance for the politicians to do their photo ops of them doing charity work and such.

        It’s a vicious cycle, which can only be broken if those in power use the tax money appropriated to them to give people in need a fishing pole, and if those people in need will take the initiative to learn and use the fishing pole in the first place. Otherwise, it will stay as you said: the poor folks will never get the nice jobs that middle class people have,

      • UP nn grad says:

        the less-qualified get the lesser jobs or no-jobs at all.

        Lesser-education — lesser-qualified.
        Lesser-skilled (mag-WoWoWee: oo, mag-type o mag-maneho o mag kahero : hindi) — lesser-qualified.
        Less health (underweight, sickly) — lesser qualified.
        Less presentable (no money to buy better shoes, clothes) — lesser qualified.
        Less contacts (walang padrino, hindi alam kung nasaan ang may opening) — lesser qualified.

      • UP nn grad says:

        Getting free birthday cakes or a wreath for when one’s lolo or lola dies is appreciated.
        However, among the best help to the poor will be education and health.
        Education so that the children achieve marketable skills — reading, writing, arithmetic,
        vocational skills (welding, carpentry, auto mechanics, hair dressing, sewing, cooking),
        or the college-preparatory so others can complete accounting, engineering, human resources,
        computers, salesmanship, etcetera.

        Of course, the money for one college or vocational school scholarship is equal to money for hundreds of “free birthday cake”, so ganoon lang talaga ang takbo sa politiko.

        Noynoy should increase by 20% or 40% the funding for the 4P-program (that Gloria-M-Arroyo had pushed during her administration):

        Under the 4Ps program, conditional cash grants are extended to extremely poor families—those that have a total income of not more than P6,000 annually—to improve their health, nutrition and education, particularly children aged 0 to 14. The 4Ps provides P500 per month per household for health and nutrition expenses, and P3,000 for one school year or P300 per month per child for educational expenses, for a maximum of three children per family.

        As such, a qualified family with three children would receive a subsidy of P1,400 a month during the school year, or P15,000 a year, as long as they comply with the conditions.

  15. Monk says:

    It won’t matter anymore because the ’08 crash has revealed that “industrialized” economies are driven by high debt, consumer spending, and financial derivatives. The subprime lending crisis is just the beginning.

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