Human rights in the Philippines

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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][dated info]


Land seizures from indigenous peoples[edit]

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Moro and Lumads controlled an area which now covers 17 of Mindanao’s 24 provinces, but by the 1980 census, they constituted less than 6% of the population of Mindanao and Sulu. Heavy migration to Mindanao of Luzon and Visayans, spurred by government-sponsored resettlement programs, turned the indigenous Lumads and Moros into minorities.[3]

The native Moro Muslims and Lumads were supplanted by the first Spanish and American colonization programs with Christian settlers taking control of key areas and disrupting the Muslim's administrative structures and control over resources, the Americans chose Christian settlers to become officials of settler populated townships instead of Lumads and Muslims, with the environment becoming ruined due to the activities of the settlers and logging.[4] Severe deterioration of the land in Mindanao ensued after the continuing influx of Filipino settlers, with the land becoming essentially useless.[4] Eric S. Casiño wrote on the interaction between the Filipino settlers, the Moro Muslim and Lumad natives and the impact on the environment in his book "Mindanao Statecraft and Ecology: Moros, Lumads, and Settlers Across the Lowland-highland Continuum".[5]

The Americans started a colonization program on Mindanao for foreign agricultural companies and Filipino Christian settlers against the native Muslims and non-Muslim Lumads of Mindanao, in order to secure the area with a Christian presence and help the American military assert control over the area once it was conquered.[6]

90% of Mindanao's people used to consist of native Moro Muslims at the start of the 20th century but the invasion and colonization sponsored by the American and Philippine governments led to Filipino Christian settlers turning into the majority of almost 75% of the population, with the American colonial government helping to kick natives off their land and giving the land titles to Christian colonists.[7] Media compared the American conquest of the west from the Native Americans to the Filipino conquest and settlement of Mindanao from the Muslims, the Philippine government, Philippine military and Filipino militias used extremely violent tactics against natives to support the settlers.[7]

The government agencies involved in settlement on Mindanao were the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA) and subsequently the Land Settlement and Development Corporation (LASEDECO), followed by the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA).[8]

The Americans used their control over property and land laws to let American corporations and Filipino Christian settlers take over Lumad and Moro Muslim resources and land and depriving them of self-governance after eliminating the sovereignty of the Moro Sultanates, and ignoring Moro requests for their own independence, with the Philippine government continuing the colonization program after independence leading to a humongous number of Filipino settlers streaming into Moro territories, and this led to Moros making moves for independence and armed struggle against the Philippines.[9]

After 1960 the settlement program turned the Moro Muslims into a minority from their previous majority in Mindanao, similar to what happened in the Indonesian Transmigration program where Javanese people where frontier areas are settled with ethnic Madurese and Javanese people.[10]

The native Moros became victims to land grabs by Filipino Christian settlers.[11][12]

Severe violence between native Muslims and Christian settlers erupted due to the influx of Christian colonists, companies and other entities seeking to exploit new land on Mindanao who engaged in land grabbing.[13] Lumad and Muslim interests were ignored by the state sponsored colonization program led by the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA) which provided benefits for the colonists and made no consideration for the Muslims.[14]

Moro Muslims are just 17% of Mindanao's population whereas prior to the colonization program initiated by the governments of the Philippines they had been a massive majority and the colonization and land grabs led to the current violent conflict, with private companies and Filipino colonists from the Visayas and Luzon taking lands from Moro clans with the Philippine government issuing land titles to settlers and ignoring Moro ownership of the land since they declared Moro land as public lands.[15]

Massive settlement by Filipino Christian colonists continued after independence was granted and rule passed to Christian Filipinos from the Americans and land disputes the Christian settlers had with the Muslim and tribal natives broke out in violence, eventually the colonization, along with the Jabidah massacre, led to the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro armed insurgency against Philippine rule.[16][17]

The Philippine government encouraged Filipino Christian settlers in Mindanao to form militias called Ilaga to fight the Moros. The Ilaga engaged in massacres and atrocities and were responsible for Manili massacre of 65 Moro Muslim civilians in a Mosque on June 1971, including women and children. The Ilaga also engaged in cannibalism, cutting off the body parts of their victims to eat in rituals. The Ilaga settlers were given the sarcastic nickname as an acronym, the "Ilonggo Land Grabbers’ Association".[18]

The Moros were only incorporated into the Philippines by "conquest and colonization", constituting a separate nation from Filipinos analogous to the experience of Native Americans who violently resisted American conquest.[19]

War crimes[edit]

The Philippine military burned down the city of Jolo when fighting against the native Moro Muslims. Over 10,000 Moro and Chinese civilians were killed by the Philippine Armed Forces when they burned Jolo to the ground.

The Philippine government encouraged Filipino Christian settlers in Mindanao to form militias called Ilaga to fight the Moros. The Ilaga engaged in massacres and atrocities and were responsible for Manili massacre of 65 Moro Muslim civilians in a Mosque on June 1971, including women and children. The Ilaga also engaged in cannibalism, cutting off the body parts of their victims to eat in rituals.[20]

Other massacres committed by the Philippine armed forces against Moro civilians include the November 1971 Tacub massacre, 1974 Malisbong massacre, October 1977 Patikul massacre, February 1981 Pata Island massacre.[21][22][23][24][25][26]

On September 24, 1974, in the Malisbong massacre the Armed Forces of the Philippines slaughtered 1,766 Moro Muslim civilians who were praying at a Mosque in addition to mass raping Moro girls who had been taken aboard a boat.

In 1977, Shiekh Salamat Hashim established the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter group of the MNLF seeking to establish an Islamic state.[27] Conflicts between these rebel groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines would continue until the end of the regime of President Marcos.

On September 15, 2013, the New York Times published an article crediting "every" Philippine government for having "struggled" to "bring peace" to the Muslims of Mindanao since 1946 when it became independent and claimed that it is the "belief" of the Muslims that they are being subjected to oppression and exploitation by the Christians that is the "problem" which is causing the conflict and the newspaper also claimed that the conflict stretched back to 1899 when Moro "insurrectionists" were "quelled" by the American army.[28] On January 26, 2014 the New York Times published another article claiming that "every Philippine government" has "struggled to bring peace to Mindanao" and claimed that reports of exploitation and oppression by the Filipino Christians originated from what Muslims "say" and the newspaper also praised President Benigno S. Aquino III's "landmark peace deal".[29] The New York Times labelled Moro fighters as "Muslim-led groups" and as "violent".[30] The New York Times blamed "Islamic extremist groups" for carrying out attacks in the Philippines.[31] The New York Times editorial board endorsed Philippine President Benigno Aquino's planned peace deal and the passage of "Bangsamoro Basic Law", blaming the "Muslim insurgency" for causing trouble to the "largely Catholic country".[32] The New York Times claimed that "Islamic militants" were fighting the Philippine military.[33]

The New York Times claimed the peace deal between the Philippines and MILF "seeks to bring prosperity to the restive south and weaken the appeal of the extremist groups.", and linked the winding down of the insurgency to increased American military cooperation with the Philippines against China.[34] The New York Times hailed Mr Aquino's "peace agreement" as an "accomplishment" as it reported on Aquino raising the "alarm" on China in the South China Sea.[35] The New York Times editorial board published an article siding with the Philippines against China in the South China Sea dispute and supporting the Philippines actions against China.[36][37] The New York Times editorial board endorsed aggressive American military action against China in the South China Sea.[38][39]

According to historians, the Moro Rebellion between the Americans and Moros broke out in 1904 when America unilaterally violated the Bates Treaty and invaded the Moro territories. The current Moro insurgency broke out after the Philippine government massacred Moro Muslims in the Jabidah massacre.

Extrajudicial killings[edit]

Since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in office, over 800 people have been victims of extrajudicial killings. [40]

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.[41] 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.[42]

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.[43] Victims included trade unionists, farmers' rights activists, people from indigenous communities, lawyers, journalists, human rights campaigners and people of religion.[40][44][45]

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.[46]

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.[47] The order created an Inter-Agency Committee on Extra Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Persons tasked to organize a technical working group. The working group was mandated to undertake:

  • Inventory of cases
  • Investigation of unsolved cases
  • Monitoring and reporting to the Committee of cases under investigation, preliminary investigation, and trial
  • Investigation and prosecution of new cases
  • Action upon the cases
  • Submission of report to the President at six-month intervals.

Press freedom[edit]

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.[48] Between 1986 to 2005, 52 journalists have been murdered.[49]

Freedom of expression[edit]

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."[50]

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.[51][52][53]

Freedom to travel[edit]

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.[54]" 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.[55] 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.[56]

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).[57] OFWs are required to obtain a POEA exit clearance in order to be allowed to leave the country.[58] The process of obtaining a POEA exit clearances has been described in the Philippine press as a "nightmare".[59] 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.[60]

Other allegations[edit]

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.[61]

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.[62]

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.[63]

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.[64] 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."[65] Task Force Usig dismissed nearly half of the 114 cases of assassination as "cold"[66] and, of the 58 cases where charges were brought, has secured only convictions only twice.[64][67]

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 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, [68]

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, [67]

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, [67]

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.

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.

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.[70]

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.[71]

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."[69] 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."[72]

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.[73] 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".[67]

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.[74]

International human rights treaties[edit]

On 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly by a vote of 48 in favor, none against, and eight abstentions.[75] The Philippines supplied one of the 48 votes in favor.[76]

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

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.[77]

See also[edit]




 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
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