Human Rights in the Philippines

Human rights in the Philippines has been a subject of concern and controversy. According to U.S. Country Profile on the Philippines dated March 2006, the U.S. State Department reported in 2006 that Philippine security forces have been 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. Prison conditions were harsh, and the slow judicial process as well as corrupt police, judges, and prosecutors impaired due process and the rule of law. Besides criminals and terrorists, human rights activists, atheists and agnostics, 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.

On Wednesday December 7, 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.[2] On Dec 7, Mr. Campbell was informed he was on a blacklist by the Filipino immigration authorities and was barred from entering the country. Mr. Campbell then was immediately forced to leave the country. | |

United Nations investigation Since 2001 when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in office over 800 people have been victims of extra - judicial killings. 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. Victims over the past six years have included trade unionists, farmers' rights activists, people from indigenous communities, lawyers, journalists, human rights campaigners and people of religion. 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. 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. Between 1986 to 2005, 52 journalists have been murdered. Other allegations

The Philippine government, currently headed by the elected President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is fighting insurgents such as Islamic groups and the Communist New People's Army. A spate of extrajudicial killings, estimated by human rights groups at over 800 in the past five years, 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. According to Cher S Jimenez writing in Asia Times Online, as of 2007, there is 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. 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.

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. 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." Task Force Usig dismissed nearly half of the 114 cases of assassination as "cold" and, of the 58 cases where charges were brought, has secured only convictions only twice.

Amnesty International states that the more than 860 confirmed murders are 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 continues: 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 New People's Army . . . [and] the parallel public labeling by officials of a broad range of legal leftist groups as communist 'front organizations'...has created an environment in which there is heightened concern that further political killings of civilians are likely to take place. —Amnesty International,

Human Rights Watch, in a 2008 report, reported 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,

Human Rights Watch writes that the murders and kidnappings are rarely investigated by the police or other government agencies; they 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,

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.,

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.,

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. 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. E. San Juan, Jr. alleges that the Arroyo government initially made no response to the dramatic increase in violence and killings. He writes, "Arroyo has been tellingly silent over the killing and abduction of countless members of opposition parties and popular organizations."

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." E. San Juan, Jr. writes 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 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".