Note: This report was updated 3/03/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.
The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May, began the first year of his constitutionally limited six-year term on June 30. The May presidential and 2013 midterm national elections were generally free and fair. The 2016 local elections were postponed until 2017.
Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the Philippine National Police (PNP), which did not have a civilian head of the Internal Affairs Service from 2008 until December, when the government confirmed a civilian in the position. There were no reports that civilian control over other security forces was inadequate.
Since July police and unknown vigilantes have killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users as the government pursued a policy aimed at eliminating illegal drug activity in the country by the end of the year. Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and they increased sharply over the past year. The PNP reported 2,155 suspects killed during police antidrug operations between July 1 and December 26 and approximately 4,000 more allegedly drug-related killings by unknown persons during that period. The law requires an internal PNP investigation of all injuries and deaths resulting from police operations. As of September, 709 investigations were opened into deaths resulting from PNP operations. As of December 26, charges had been filed in approximately 800 of the killings by unknown persons. September hearings in the senate on the rise in killings were postponed after three days.
The most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.
Other human rights problems included: official corruption and abuse of power; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; security force harassment of political activists, including threats of violence against human rights activists; warrantless arrests; lengthy pretrial detentions; overcrowded and inadequate prison conditions; killings and harassment of journalists; insufficient provision of services to internally displaced persons (IDPs); violence against women; abuse and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; limited access to facilities for persons with disabilities; lack of full integration of indigenous people into political and economic structures; absence of law and policy to protect persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; child labor; and ineffective enforcement of worker rights.
The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly as few administrative or criminal charges were filed against PNP officers following the sharp increase in police killings. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of the killings and claimed authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures persisted.
Conflicts between the government and long-running Muslim separatist, communist insurgent, and terrorist groups continued to displace civilians and kill security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations, with agendas and memberships at times overlapping those of separatist or political rebels, included the New People’s Army (NPA), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and Jemaah Islamiya (JI). Muslim separatist groups included the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the MILF-breakaway Bangsamoro (a proposed Muslim-dominated autonomous province in southwestern Mindanao) Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Moro National Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF). Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom and bombings of civilian targets, reportedly used child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles, and operated shadow governments in areas they controlled. Government negotiations with the NPA, beginning in August in Oslo, resulted in an indefinite ceasefire. Legislation that would implement the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the MILF and the government remained stalled in congress.