Working Paper

Working Paper

[ADRN Working Paper] Pandemic Governance in the Philippines: Democratic Recession and Corruption Risks

  • 2021-04-13
  • Francisco A. Magno

ISBN  979-11-6617-114-7 95340

Editor’s note

The outbreak of COVID-19 precipitated the emergence of various unprecedented variables for national governance. Prior to the pandemic, authoritarian rule under the Marcos regime in the Philippines had weakened institutional integrity, transparency, and accountability, increasing the leeway for the drastic economic decline during the final years of his command. Subsequent reforms over two decades earned the country a good sovereign credit rating and steady economic growth. However, institutional safeguards for transparent and accountable governance were yet insufficient for the appropriate response for the transfer of emergency authority and funds to the executive branch amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding onto existing studies claiming that established democracies show lower levels of corruption than authoritarian regimes, Francisco A. Magno of the Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance explores how weak democracies reflect a higher tendency to undergo corruption, a phenomenon that was evident in the Philippines amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. A weak institutional base led to the misuse of PhilHealth funds, diminished the nation’s performance of rule of law, eroded institutional constraints, and challenged the freedom of the press. While measures of a government-led task force and the civil society helped resuscitate democratic institutions, threats to democracy prevailed in the Philippines. The author claims that the revival of democratic institutions is crucial in fighting corruption both judiciously and systematically.



※ The following are excerpts from the article. For the full text, please check the attached file at the top of this page.




Previous studies indicate that established democracies show lower levels of corruption than authoritarian regimes or young democracies.[2] In this regard, it is interesting to consider how authoritarian tendencies have diminished the role of democratic institutions and systems of checks and balances that control corruption. The outbreak of corruption scandals that accompanied the Corona Virus Disease (COVID)-19 health crisis in 2020 exemplifies how the democratic recession has negatively affected the state of public accountability in the Philippines.

This study probes into whether the COVID-19 pandemic further promoted democratic recession and corruption in the Philippines. It examines the patterns of irregularities emerging from the implementation of public programs aimed at responding to the crisis. Poorly designed institutional arrangements and weak democratic controls foster opportunities for the commission of illicit transactions in the delivery of public goods and services. Finally, this study considers the importance of reviving democratic institutions as a key effort in fighting corruption on a long-term basis. 

The eruption of the pandemic shed light on the severe corruption vulnerabilities in many countries. However, even before the pandemic, it was estimated that the loss of about 10 to 25 percent of a public contract’s value could be attributed to corruption.[3] Currently, over 7.8 trillion USD is allocated annually to public health globally.[4] With more public funds being made available to fight the pandemic, stronger safeguards are needed to prevent corruption.

The COVID-19 pandemic was found to have hastened corruption. The potential for corruption in pandemic times is greater especially as pressures for swift government action may lead to shortcuts that damage the integrity of institutional processes. The main risk areas include the withholding of accurate health data, irregularities in public procurement, purchase of sub-standard equipment, and misappropriation of health budgets.[5]

As the first case was to have been reported on November 17th, 2020 in Wuhan, China - a city in Hubei Province- the COVID-19 pandemic is acknowledged to have begun during this time. In the following weeks, cases of people infected with the virus piled up. However, the Chinese government hid health data and even reprimanded local doctors who warned of the new disease. It was not until December 31, 2019 that the government informed the World Health Organization (WHO) China Country Office on the existence of the fast-spreading virus. Such lack of transparency prevented health authorities over the world from taking preventive action and containing the transmission of the coronavirus across cities, nations, and borders.[6]



[1] Throughout the year, ADRN members will publish a total of three versions of the Pandemic Crisis and Democratic Governance in Asia Research to include any changes and updates in order to present timely information. The first and second parts will be publicized as a working paper and the third will be publicized as a special report. This working paper is part I of the research project.

[2] Ina Kubbe and Annika Engelbert, "Corruption and the impact of democracy." Crime, Law and Social Change 70, 2 (2018) 175-178.

[3] UNODC, Guidebook on Anti-Corruption in Public Procurement and the Management of Public Finances. New York: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2013), (Accessed on October 18, 2013).

[4] WHO, Global spending on health: A world in transition, WHO/HIS/HGF/HF Working Paper, No. 19.4, Geneva: World Health Organization (2019); (Accessed on February 6, 2020).

[5] Sarah Steingrüber, Presentation at the “25 years of fighting with the nation the perennial pandemic of corruption” Virtual Town Hall Discussion, Transparency International-Philippines and Stratbase ADR Institute, August 28 2020.

[6] Sarah Steingrüber, Monica Kirya, David Jackson, and Saul Mullard, Corruption in the time of COVID-19: A double-threat for low-income Countries, U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, 2020.



  • Francisco A. Magno teaches Political Science and Development Studies at De La Salle University (DLSU). He is the Founding Director of the DLSU Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance. He served as the President of the Philippine Political Science Association from 2015 to 2017. He finished his PhD in Political Science at the University of Hawaii.
  • Typeset by Jinkyung Baek, Director of the Research Department
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