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Human rights in the Philippines

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Human rights in the Philippines

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Philippines

Human rights in the Philippines has been a subject of concern and controversy.

In 2014, the Freedom House in their standard-setting comparative assessment of global political rights and civil liberties of 195 countries assessed the freedom status of the Philippines as "Partly Free", with a political rights rating of 3.0; with 1.0 being the highest obtainable rating. The Philippines also obtained a 3.0 rating for civil rights and freedom rating. The ratings obtained by the Philippines is the highest obtained by a country in the region of South East Asia.[1]

In 2006 the U.S. State Department reported that Philippine security forces were responsible for serious human rights abuses despite the efforts of civilian authorities to control them. The report found that although the government generally respected human rights, some security forces elements—particularly the Philippine National Police—practiced extrajudicial killings, vigilantism, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention in their battle against criminals and terrorists.[2]

Prison conditions were reported as being harsh, and the judicial process slow. Corrupt police, judges, and prosecutors impaired due process and the rule of law. Besides criminals and terrorists, atheists, agnostics, human rights activists, left-wing political activists, and Muslims were sometimes the victims of improper police conduct. Violence against women and abuse of children remained serious problems, and some children were pressed into slave labor and prostitution.[2]


  • History 1
  • Extrajudicial killings 2
  • Press freedom 3
  • Freedom of expression 4
  • Freedom to travel 5
  • Other allegations 6
  • International human rights treaties 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Prior to the establishment of the Republic of the Philippines the inhabitants were the victims of numerous historically documented human rights violations during the more the 300 years of Spanish colonization, 40 years of American colonization, and three years of Japanese administration. Most of its celebrated national heroes were victims of the culture of impunity imposed by oppressive Spanish, American, and Japanese rule.

The Philippines and Thailand are the two countries in South East Asia that have abolished the death penalty.

Extrajudicial killings

Since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in office, over 800 people have been victims of extrajudicial killings. [3]

On 7 December 2006 International Labor Rights Fund's Brian Campbell tried to enter the Philippines to continue investigations of recent human rights violations and murders in the Philippines. Mr. Campbell had previously visited the Philippines in early 2006 to investigate various deaths of trade unionists including Diosdado Fortuna.[4] Mr. Campbell was informed he was on a blacklist by the Filipino immigration authorities, was barred from entering, and was immediately forced to leave the country.[5]

In 2007 Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions, spent 10 days in the Philippines investigating these killings. He spoke to witnesses and victims, as well as senior members of the military and the government, finding that witnesses have been systematically intimidated and harassed. He says the military is implicated directly or indirectly in a significant number of deaths.[6] Victims included trade unionists, farmers' rights activists, people from indigenous communities, lawyers, journalists, human rights campaigners and people of religion.[3][7][8]

In June 2007 the European Commission (EC) sent a six-man team of experts from the European Union (EU) to the Philippines on a 10-day mission to evaluate needs and identify technical assistance that the EU might provide to help its government prosecute those behind the killings.[9]

On 22 November 2012, President Benigno S. C. Aquino signed Administrative Order No. 35 creating the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Property without due process of law. With Chairperson Leila M. De Lima, the Secretary of Justice and former Chairperson of the country's independent human rights institution (IHRI), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Other members of the committee are the heads of the following offices, the Chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND), the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP), Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs (PAPA), the Director General of Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Press freedom

The fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index released by the international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked the Philippines among the worst-ranked countries for 2006 at 142nd place. It indicates the continuing murders of journalists and increased legal harassment in the form of libel suits as part of the problem in the Philippines.[10] Between 1986 to 2005, 52 journalists have been murdered.[11]

Freedom of expression

In 2012, acting on a complaint by an imprisoned broadcaster who dramatised a newspaper account reporting that a particular politician was seen running naked in a hotel when caught in bed by the husband of the woman with whom he was said to have spent the night, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights ruled that the criminalization of libel violates freedom of expression and is inconsistent with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, commenting that "Defamations laws should not ... stifle freedom of expression" and that "Penal defamation laws should include defense of truth."[12]

In 2012, the Philippines enacted Republic Act 10175, titled The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Essentially, this Act provides that libel is criminally punishable and describes it as: "Libel – the unlawful or prohibited act as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future." Professor Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines has written that under this law, electronic libel is punished with imprisonment from 6 years and one day to up to 12 years.[13][14][15]

Freedom to travel

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, in part, "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.[16]" The Covenant was adopted on 10 December 1948 and, as of 30 September 1995, had been ratified or acceded to by 132 States, including the Philippines.[17] Article III Section 6 of the Philippine constitution provides, in part, that the right to travel shall not be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.[18]

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the main government agency assigned to monitor and supervise recruitment agencies in the Philippines, enforces a system of exit clearances for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).[19] OFWs are required to obtain a POEA exit clearance in order to be allowed to leave the country.[20] The process of obtaining a POEA exit clearances has been described in the Philippine press as a "nightmare".[21] In a Philippine Daily Inquirer piece dated 14 July 2011, Rigoberto Tiglao, Philippine ambassador to Greece and Cyprus, questioned the POEA exit clearances, opining that they may be unconstitutional.[22]

Other allegations

As of December 2003, the human rights watchdog KARAPATAN had documented human rights violations against 169,530 individuals, 18,515 families, 71 communities, and 196 households. One person, it said, was being killed every three days under the Macapagal-Arroyo government or a total of 271 persons as of December 2003.[23]

A spate of extrajudicial killings, estimated in 2007 by human rights groups at over 800 between 2002 and 2007, has put the Philippines on the human rights watch list of the United Nations and the US Congress. A UN special rapporteur criticized the Arroyo administration for not doing enough to stop the killings, many of which had been linked to government anti-insurgency operations. Interior Assistant Secretary Danilo Valero said the sharp decline, 83%, in the number of political killings last year, as well as the filing of cases against the suspects, “underline the Arroyo government’s strong commitment to human rights and its firm resolve to put an end to these unexplained killings and put their perpetrators behind bars.” Task Force Usig was created in 2006 as the government’s response to the extrajudicial killings. Valero said the yearend statistics showed “the creation of the task force has been a deterrent” to such crimes.[24]

According to Cher S Jimenez writing in Asia Times Online, as of 2007 there was an increasing international awareness of the extrajudicial harassment, torture, disappearances and murder of Filipino civilian non-combatants by the Philippine's military and police. Since the advent of the "War on Terrorism" in 2001, the people of the Philippines have witnessed the assassinations of more than 850 mainstream journalists and other public figures and the harassment, detention, or torture of untold more.[25]

E. San Juan, Jr. writes that estimates of killings vary on the precise number, with Task Force Usig estimating only 114. It has failed to gain any convictions, and as of February 2007 had only arrested 3 suspects in the over 100 cases of assassination.[26] The online publication Bulatlat states that "[A]ccording to a recent international fact-finding mission of Dutch and Belgian judges and lawyers, Task Force Usig 'has not proven to be an independent body…the PNP has a poor record as far as the effective investigation of the killings is concerned and is mistrusted by the Philippine people."[27] Task Force Usig dismissed nearly half of the 114 cases of assassination as "cold"[28] and, of the 58 cases where charges were brought, has secured only convictions only twice.[26][29]

Amnesty International stated in 2006 that the more than 860 confirmed murders were clearly political in nature because of "the methodology of the attacks, including prior death threats and patterns of surveillance by persons reportedly linked to the security forces, the leftist profile of the victims and climate of impunity which, in practice, shields the perpetrators from prosecution." The AI report continued:
the arrest and threatened arrest of leftist Congress Representatives and others on charges of rebellion, and intensifying counter-insurgency operations in the context of a declaration by officials in June of 'all-out-war' against the [30] —Amnesty International, 

Human Rights Watch reported in 2008

2006 saw a sharp increase in the number of extrajudicial killings, which coincided with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s June 2006 declaration of an “all-out war” against communist insurgents called the National People’s Army (NPA)...the Philippine government is consistently failing in its obligations under international human rights law to hold accountable perpetrators of politically motivated killings....With inconclusive investigations, implausible suspects, and no convictions, impunity prevails....Out of hundreds of killings and “disappearances” over the past five years, there have been only two successfully prosecuted cases resulting in the conviction of four defendants....The number of senior military officers convicted either for direct involvement or under command responsibility remains zero. The doctrine of command responsibility in international law means that superior officers can be held criminally liable for the actions of their subordinates, and also if a superior had reason to know that subordinates under his command committed an offence and failed to use all feasible means under his command to prevent and punish it, he too may be found guilty for the offence.
—Human Rights Watch, [29]
Human Rights Watch wrote that the murders and kidnappings were rarely investigated by the police or other government agencies and often go unreported because of fears of reprisal against the victims or their families. The Philippine National Police blame investigative failures on this reluctance, but as Human Rights Watch writes:
[W]itnesses are indeed reluctant to cooperate with police investigations, because of fear that they would be targeted by doing so. An extremely weak witness protection program exacerbates this problem....[P]olice are often unwilling to vigorously investigate cases implicating members of the AFP. Families of some victims told Human Rights Watch that when they reported relevant cases to the police, police often demanded that the families themselves produce evidence and witnesses. Even when police filed cases with a court, they often identified the perpetrators either as long-wanted members of the NPA or simply as “John Doe.” Some families told Human Rights Watch that police gave up investigating after only a few days.
—Human Rights Watch, [29]

The Asian Human Rights Commission reported in 2006,

Most of those killed or "disappeared" were peasant or worker activists belonging to progressive groups such as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, GABRIELA, Anakbayan, Karapatan, KMU, and others (Petras and Abaya 2006). They were protesting Arroyo's repressive taxation, collusion with foreign capital tied to oil and mining companies that destroy people's livelihood and environment, fraudulent use of public funds, and other anti-people measures. Such groups and individuals have been tagged as "communist fronts" by Arroyo's National Security Advisers, the military, and police; the latter agencies have been implicated in perpetrating or tolerating those ruthless atrocities.
—Dr. E. San Juan, Jr.[31]
Right from the beginning, Arroyo's ascendancy was characterized by rampant human rights violations. Based on the reports of numerous fact-finding missions, Arroyo has presided over an unprecedented series of harassments, warrantless arrests, and assassinations of journalists, lawyers, church people, peasant leaders, legislators, doctors, women activists, youthful students, indigenous leaders, and workers.
—Dr. E. San Juan, Jr.[31]

According to commentators James Petras and Robin Eastman-Abaya, "Human rights groups provide evidence that death squads operate under the protective umbrella of regional military commands, especially the U.S.-trained Special Forces.[32]

2006 is also the year President Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 1017. According to Cher S Jimenez writing in Asia Times Online, this proclamation "grants exceptional unchecked powers to the executive branch", placing the country in a state of emergency and permitting the police and security forces to "conduct warrantless arrests against enemies of the state, including...members of the political opposition and journalists from critical media outlets." With 185 dead, 2006 is so far (2007) the highest annual mark for extrajudicial government murders. Of the 2006 killings, the dead were "mostly left-leaning activists, murdered without trial or punishment for the perpetrators." The issuance of the proclamation conspicuously coincided with a dramatic increase in political violence and extrajudicial killings.[33]

[31] An independent commission was assembled in August 2006 to investigate the killings. Headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, the group known as the Melo Commission concluded that most of the killings were instigated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but found no proof linking the murder of activists to a "national policy" as claimed by the left-wing groups. On the other hand the report "linked state security forces to the murder of militants and recommended that military officials, notably retired major general Jovito Palparan, be held liable under the principle of command responsibility for killings in their areas of assignment."[34]

E. San Juan, Jr. wrote that later, in February 2007, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston implicated the Philippine police and military as responsible for the crimes. Alston charged in his report that Arroyo’s propaganda and counter-insurgency strategy “encourage or facilitate the extra-judicial killings of activists and other enemies” of the state.[35] and that "the AFP remains in a state of almost total denial… of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the significant number of killings which have been convincingly attributed to them".[29]

In her 2006 State of the Nation address, then-president Arroyo condemned political killings "in the harshest possible terms" and urged witnesses to come forward.[36]

International human rights treaties

The Philippines was one of the first countries to vote in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948, the day the UDHR was adopted in Paris.

The Philippines is signatory to a number of United Nations human rights treaties, including:

Compliance and adherence to obligations under international human rights instruments, including the timely submission of treaty implementation reports to the United Nations is one of the functions of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) under Administrative Order No. 29 dated 27 January 2002 and No. 163 dated 8 December 2006.[37]

See also



 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
  1. ^ "Ratings". FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2014. Freedom House. 
  2. ^ a b Country Profile: Philippines. U.S. Library of Congress – Federal Research Division. March 2006. Retrieved 7 January 2008. 
  3. ^ a b Marwaan Macan-Markar (12 February 2007). "RIGHTS-PHILIPPINES: UN Probes Extra-Judicial Killings". Inter Press Service News Agency. Retrieved 22 August 2007. 
  4. ^ Bloodshed in the Picketline news article in Bulatlat, 2 September 2005.
  5. ^ Deported lawyer prodded US firms to sign letter on killings news article in Inquirer (Philippines), 8 December 2006.
  6. ^ Karen Percy (21 February 2007). "UN links Philippines military to political killings". Retrieved 22 August 2007. 
  7. ^ "Dangerous Regime, Defiant People - KARAPATAN 2007 Human Rights Report". Retrieved 16 January 2008. 
  8. ^ Vincent Brossel and Jean-François Julliard. Philippines—An End to Impunity. Reporters Without Borders; International Secrétariat; Asia Desk. 
  9. ^ Rev. Fr. Jessie Somosierra, Jr. (30 June 2007). "EC: Serious problems remain amid RP efforts to end killings"., citing 
  10. ^ "Philippines among worst-ranked countries in press freedom index". Retrieved 22 August 2007. 
  11. ^ "52 journalists killed since the return to democracy in 1986". 2 May 2005. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  12. ^ Libel law violates freedom of expression – UN rights panel, The Manila Times, 30 January 2012.
  13. ^ "Lee: The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012". Sun*Star - Davao. September 21, 2012. 
  14. ^ Harry Roque, Jr. (20 September 2012). "Cybercrime law and freedom of expression". Manila Standard. 
  15. ^ "Republic Act No. 10175". Official Gazette. Office of the Presiden of the Philippinest. 12 September 2012. 
  16. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". The United Nations. 
  17. ^ "Fact Sheet No.2 (Rev.1), The International Bill of Human Rights". U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1996. 
  18. ^ "Article II : Bill of Rights". 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Chan Robles Law Library. 
  19. ^ "OFW exit procedures made easy".  
  20. ^ "POEA restores validation of OFW exit clearance at NAIA terminals" (Press release).  
  21. ^ Stella Ruth O. Gonzales (July 2011). "Exit clearance: An OFW’s nightmare". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 
  22. ^ Rigoberto Tiglao (14 July 2011). "OFW ‘exit permits’: unconstitutional?". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 
  23. ^ "Human Rights Violations in the Philippines: A Grim Reality". Butalot ( III (43). November 30–6 December 2003. Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  24. ^ "PNP: Extrajudicial killings fell by 83% in 2007". 14 January 2008. 
  25. ^ "Deadly dirty work in the Philippines (page 1)". Asia Times. 13 February 2007. 
  26. ^ a b E. San Juan, Jr., "Class Struggle and Socialist Revolution in the Philippines: Understanding the Crisis of U.S. Hegemony, Arroyo State Terrorism, and Neoliberal Globalization"
  27. ^ "What Drives Macapagal-Arroyo’s "Silent War"?". Bulatlat. 
  28. ^ "DILG should urge Task Force Usig to really investigate all political killings - KMU". Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  29. ^ a b c d A Human Rights Watch Submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the Universal Periodic Review of the Republic of the Philippines Human Rights Watch 2003
  30. ^ ...Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace , Amnesty International (archived from the original on
  31. ^ a b c E. San Juan, Jr. (18 September 2006). PHILIPPINES: Class Struggle and Socialist Revolution in the Philippines: Understanding the Crisis of U.S. Hegemony, Arroyo State Terrorism, and Neoliberal Globalization [Monthly Review]. Asian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 9 May 2008. 
  32. ^ CounterPunch: "America's Best Political Newsletter"
  33. ^ "Deadly dirty work in the Philippines (page 2)". Asia Times. 13 February 2007. 
  34. ^ Alberto, Thea (15 February 2007). "'"Melo: Commission report 'complete.  
  35. ^ "Philippines: Filpina Militants Indict Bush-Arroyo For Crimes Against Humanity". Bay Area Indymedia. 28 April 2007.  Article written by E. San Juan, Jr. for Bay Area Indymedia. Republished by "Asian Human Rights Commission in News".
  36. ^ "State of the Nation Address of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo". The Official Website of the Republic of the Philippines. 24 July 2006. Archived from the original on 8 February 2007. Retrieved 5 June 2007. 
  37. ^ "Administrative Order No. 163, s. 2006". Official Gazette of the Philippine Government. 8 December 2006. 

External links

  • Human Rights Philippine
  • KARAPATAN - Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights
  • "IFEX Philippines". International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). 
  • "Human rights issues in Philippines". Asian Human Rights Commission. 
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