The PNP is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The AFP, which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions with a high incidence of conflict, particularly in areas of Mindanao. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The PNP Special Action Force is responsible, in particular, for urban counterterrorism operations. President Duterte’s May declaration of martial law for the entire region of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago remained in effect as of October, giving the military expanded powers. Human rights groups expressed concern about the potential for human rights abuses, recalling the period of martial law for the entire country during the Marcos regime.
Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including appointment of top departmental and municipal police officers and the provision of resources, an arrangement that often resulted in graft and corruption.
The 176,000-member PNP’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption was endemic within the force continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service, mandated to ensure police operate within the law, remained largely ineffective.
Despite criticism from domestic and international human rights groups for its role in the antidrug campaign, as of October no criminal complaints had been filed by the Public Attorney’s Office or the National Bureau of Investigation against PNP officers accused of unlawful killings.
Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remained largely ineffective. President Duterte publicly condemned corruption in government and security forces, but oversight mechanisms were poorly resourced, and there was little effort to target corrupt security officials. From January to August, the Office of the Ombudsman received 133 complaints concerning 229 cases of alleged military and law enforcement involvement in human rights abuses, including killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. A majority (97 percent) of the cases were against low-ranking officials. As of September all cases remained open pending additional investigation. There were no convictions recorded against high-ranking police or military officials.
From January to June, the PNP recorded a total of 2,112 administrative cases involving 3,704 officers, including both uniformed and nonuniformed personnel. Of these, 778 were resolved with various penalties. From January to July, the PNP recorded 203 criminal cases involving 212 PNP personnel, of which 67 were filed in court, 126 were referred to the Prosecutor’s Office, and five remained under investigation.
In a prominent example of police abuse and misconduct, on September 15, National Capital Region Police Chief Oscar Albayalde ordered the reassignment or retraining of more than 1,200 police officers following rising concerns about corruption within the Caloocan police force. This included unsanctioned drug raids, evidence mismanagement, and the August 18 killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos at the hands of plainclothes police officers in Caloocan City. The Caloocan City police received additional scrutiny on September 14 when a closed-circuit video of 13 Caloocan police officers robbing a house during a September 7 drug raid became public.
The AFP Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through August, the office identified and investigated four reported incidents, including an indiscriminate discharge of a weapon, two murders, and a forced disappearance. As of August, the AFP had settled the indiscriminate weapon case when the suspect was found guilty. The three other cases remained pending.
Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the PNP through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights-based modules were included in all PNP career courses, and the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing.
The military also routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the CHR. The AFP used its revised Graduated Curricula on Human Rights/International Humanitarian Law for the Military to provide a uniform standard of training across service branches. The AFP adhered to a 2005 Presidential Memorandum requiring the incorporation of human rights and international humanitarian law into all AFP education and training courses. Successful completion of these courses is required to finish basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. From January to August, various AFP service units conducted a total of 55 human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops.
The Congressional Commission on Appointments determines whether senior military officers selected for promotion have a history of human rights violations and solicits input from the CHR and other agencies through background investigations. The commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Violations, however, do not preclude promotion.
Human rights groups noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection through the witness protection program managed by the Department of Justice due to inadequate funding or procedural delays or failure to step forward because of doubts about the program’s effectiveness. The CHR operated a smaller witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the antidrug campaign. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that witnesses often failed to come forward, or failed to cooperate, in police abuse or corruption cases. This problem sometimes followed pressure on witnesses and their families or arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.
The government continued to support and arm civilian militias. The AFP controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs), while Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) fell under PNP command. These paramilitary units often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated. Some political families and clan leaders, particularly in Mindanao, maintained private armies and, at times, recruited CVO and CAFGU members into those armies.
Human rights NGOs linked state-backed militias and private armies to numerous human rights abuses. The trial of 105 suspects in the 2009 massacre of 58 civilians in Maguindanao Province continued. As of July, three of the remaining suspects were acquitted of 58 counts of murder for lack of evidence. The chief suspect, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., died in 2015.
Such delays reinforced the perception of impunity for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of human rights abuses.