The Republic of the Philippines has a long tradition of democracy, but it remains vulnerable to political turmoil; recurring attempts to use extra-constitutional means to resolve leadership crises; human rights abuses; and concerns about credibility of elections. Corruption and weak rule of law continue to be underlying factors exacerbating this vulnerability. High voter turnout in the 2007 national and local elections demonstrated the country's continuing commitment to the democratic process as 99 percent of the 17,000 seats available nationwide were filled without controversy. Elections were marred by violence and fraud, as in past years, but civil society monitoring groups played an active role as poll watchers to ensure fairer election counts. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there continued to be serious problems in certain areas, particularly extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and forced disappearances. In 2007 the government intensified its efforts to investigate and prosecute these cases, and there has been a significant decrease in the number of killings and disappearances.
Advancing democratic values and strengthening democratic institutions are top priorities for the United States. U.S. democracy and human rights promotion efforts in the country support free and fair elections; assist the government and civil society groups in improving adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights; and strengthen good governance while combating corruption with transparent and accountable institutions. The U.S. government addresses these issues by providing development assistance programs for government and civil society partners to develop the policies and tools necessary for a freer, fairer, and more democratic system set within the framework of the rule of law and respect for human rights.
U.S. efforts are broad-based and support initiatives that boost confidence in the democratic process. Programs at both the local and national level promote equity, transparency, and popular participation--all key factors for the healthy functioning of a democracy.
Elections are generally free and fair but have historically included numerous killings of campaign workers and even candidates, as well as recurrent fraud allegations. To counter these problems, U.S.-funded programs currently support civil society initiatives that monitor election tabulation; allow NGOs to monitor campaign finance in selected electoral contests and media reporting; and assist electoral modernization efforts in preparation for local and national elections. The U.S. embassy coordinated and deployed a multi-agency team of 86 U.S. officials to observe the May 2007 national elections. This initiative clearly demonstrated to the Philippine electorate the U.S. government's strong support of a free and fair democratic process.
The Philippines has struggled with EJKs and forced disappearances for most of its modern history. U.S. government officials use every opportunity to convey the message that these killings and disappearances must cease and must be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. In support of this priority, assistance programs are underway to build the capacity of journalists to report credibly, accurately, and professionally on human rights violations; to strengthen the justice sector's effectiveness in prosecuting cases of EJKs and disappearances; and to professionalize security forces. The U.S. government also provides assistance to law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and the courts to investigate, prosecute, and convict human rights abusers and to devise strategies to prevent future abuses.
The United States continues to provide the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, along with several human rights NGOs, with computer software support and training to improve efficiency and security in documenting, storing, and reporting of human rights abuses. The U.S. government sponsored a seven-day seminar on the investigation and prosecution of EJKs and co-sponsored the Supreme Court's July 2007 National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Forced Disappearances. Positive public response to recommendations made as a result of the summit provided momentum to the effort to counter abuses, including subsequent supreme court action that allowed for the legal remedy of the writ of amparo now used in the investigation of EJKs and forced disappearances. U.S. officials are working with the supreme court to develop materials that will easily convey the legal procedures involved in securing a writ of amparo.
To encourage respect for due process among members of the armed forces, various U.S. military assistance programs help to strengthen the professionalism, commitment to human rights, and discipline of the Philippine military. Each year, thousands of soldiers receive some form of human rights training from U.S. military personnel. Graduates of these programs populate top ranks of the armed forces; helping to ensure that command responsibility is understood at all levels of leadership. In 2007 the U.S. government provided ethics or human rights training to 500 police officers. An additional 1,000 police officers received U.S.-funded training that included a human rights component. The U.S., in collaboration with the Philippine National Police (PNP) Human Rights Affairs Office, supports the delivery of the PNP's in-house human rights training.
Efforts to strengthen good governance, prosecute corrupt officials, and institute anticorruption measures continue to be supported by U.S. government initiatives. U.S. assistance and training are helping the Anti-Graft Court develop a computerized case management information system. U.S. efforts also are facilitating implementation of a continuous trial process, permitting judges to gauge the reliability of witnesses and rule effectively. Assessments of selected government agencies' vulnerability to corruption were also conducted to improve the capacities of the offices of the ombudsman, internal revenue, and customs.