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.
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.
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.