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Philippines

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Various government bodies conducted investigations into whether security force killings were justifiable, such as the national police Internal Affairs Service, the armed forces Human Rights Office, and the National Bureau of Investigation. Impunity remained a problem, however. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by government allies, antigovernment insurgents, and unknown assailants also continued. In August peace activist Randall “Randy” Echanis was tortured and killed by unknown individuals who broke into his Quezon City residence. Tensions later escalated when police seized Echanis’ remains from a funeral home.

Approximately 20,000 antidrug operations were conducted from January to August 2020, according to government data. In a House committee hearing in September, the new Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Camilo Cascolan reported 623 suspects killed and 50,429 arrested during drug operations conducted from January to August. Human Rights Watch, based on Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency figures, observed that from April to July, 155 drug suspects were killed–a 50 percent increase from the number of suspects killed from December to March before the COVID-19 community quarantine.

The reported number of extrajudicial killings varied widely, as the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The Commission on Human Rights, an independent government agency responsible for investigating possible human rights violations, investigated 157 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 178 victims as of August; of the cases, 81 involved drug-related extrajudicial killings with 93 victims. The commission suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency involvement in 61 of these new complaints and armed forces or paramilitary personnel in seven cases.

Media reported continued attacks on human rights defenders. In August the human rights defender and former advocacy officer of the human rights NGO Karapatan, Zara Alvarez, was shot and killed in Bacolod City. Alvarez was included in a Department of Justice list of 600 individuals it intended to designate as terrorists. Karapatan said two other individuals on the list were also killed.

There was a widespread belief that police enjoyed impunity for killings, an accusation both the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Philippine Commission on Human Rights made in their reports in June and July, respectively. Many cases from previous years remained open. Of police officers involved in killings in the antidrug war since 2016, only three had been convicted of murder–all in 2018 for the 2017 murder of juvenile Kian delos Santos.

Civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings. In June the National Bureau of Investigation charged two PNP members with planting evidence in the shooting of Winston Ragos, a former armed forces member suffering from mental illness, over an alleged COVID-19 quarantine violation. The officers claimed that Ragos had reached for a firearm in his bag and reported that Ragos was found to be in possession of a .38 caliber pistol; however, the bureau concluded the officers had planted the pistol during the altercation.

Police were accused of murdering nine unarmed Muslim men in Kabacan on August 30. According to the Commission on Human Rights, one victim, before dying in hospital, told his family that police were behind the killings, and another made a call saying police had stopped him before being shot. Some observers on social media alleged police committed the killings to avenge the murder of a nearby village’s police chief on August 24. Local police denied any involvement and initially suggested the incident was the result of a clan feud before a subsequent report alleged gunmen killed the victims after stopping them along the road. The government announced that a special task force would investigate in conjunction with the Commission on Human Rights.

President Duterte continued to maintain lists of persons he claimed were suspected drug criminals, including government, police, military, and judicial officials. At least two elected officials on Duterte’s list were assassinated in 2020: Sultan Sumagka mayor Abdul Wahab Sabal in February and Santo Nino mayor Pablo Matinong in July. As of May, then national police chief Archie Gamboa had ordered investigations of 709 police officers, including two police generals, named in the president’s lists. The national police reported four personnel were dismissed from service for actions related to their involvement in anti-illegal drug operations.

b. Disappearance

The armed forces Human Rights Office reported no cases of forced disappearance attributed to or implicating the forces from January to July. The Commission on Human Rights, however, reported three cases of abduction and forced disappearance from January to June, perpetrated by armed forces members in two instances and by national police members in the other. In June unidentified individuals in civilian clothing removed a woman from her home on Bantayan Island. According to the woman’s sister, who witnessed the event, they neither identified themselves nor said where they were taking the woman. When the abduction was reported to police, authorities said no police operations had been conducted that evening. The victim was an executive with an agricultural organization that the military had declared to be a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA) in March 2019. The Commission on Human Rights opened an investigation, which stalled because of the local government’s COVID-related travel restrictions.

Kidnappings during the year were common and predominantly for criminal purposes (i.e., ransom); in the past they were carried out for both pro- and antigovernment political motives as well. Terrorist groups were implicated in many Mindanao kidnappings.

The law allows family members of alleged victims of disappearances to compel government agencies to provide statements in court about what they know regarding the circumstances surrounding a disappearance (or extrajudicial killing) and the victim’s status. Evidence of a kidnapping or killing requires the filing of charges, but in many past cases evidence and documentation were unavailable or not collected. Investigative and judicial action on disappearance cases was insufficient; a small number of previously reported cases were prosecuted.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. According to the Commission on Human Rights, however, members of the security forces and police were accused of routinely abusing and sometimes torturing suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

As of June the Commission on Human Rights had investigated 27 cases of alleged torture involving 34 victims; it suspected police involvement in 22 of the cases. The NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines monitored 16 torture cases from March to June, mostly for alleged COVID-19 quarantine violations. On March 20, the start of the COVID-19 community quarantine, a village chief in Santa Cruz, Laguna, threatened to shoot five arrested curfew violators if they did not agree to be locked inside a dog cage for 30 minutes. On March 24, photographs of arrested curfew violators sitting on chairs in the middle of a basketball court and under the sun went viral after a village official from San Isidro, Paranaque, who posted the photographs, put a caption “Everyone caught violating the curfew, we will place here.”

NGOs and media reported local governments used psychological abuse, including shaming, as punishment for community quarantine curfew violators. Under the torture statutes, the public parading or shaming of a person is illegal when used to undermine a person’s dignity and morale. In April village officials in Pandacaqui, Pampanga, detained three members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community for curfew violations. The officials told the detainees to dance provocatively and kiss each other on the lips while being streamed live on Facebook.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Human rights groups continued to express concern about abuses committed by the national police and other security forces and noted little progress in reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. The armed forces Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through October, no extrajudicial killings, murders, or forced disappearances were identified or investigated by the office.

Human rights groups continued to express concern about the contribution of corruption to abuses committed by the national police and other security forces and noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations.

The national police’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption in the police was endemic continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service remained largely ineffective. In October the new PNP chief Cascolan reported 4,591 police officers were dismissed from service for serious violations, 7,888 were suspended, and 846 were demoted in rank, as part of the organization’s internal cleansing program. Although the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service claimed manpower and resource limitations hampered its investigations into deaths resulting from police operations, it asserted the majority of police operations were legitimate, lawful police actions. The PNP’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force also monitored police personnel suspected of illegal activities.

From January to August, complainants reported five cases of alleged military and law enforcement involvement in human rights abuses to the Office of the Ombudsman, including killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. A majority of the cases were against low-ranking officials. As of October all cases remained open pending additional investigation.

Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the national police through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights modules were included in all national police career courses, and the police Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing. Several NGOs suggested that national police training courses should have a follow-up mechanism to determine the effectiveness of each session.

The armed forces Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through July, the office identified and investigated no extrajudicial killings or murders or forced disappearances.

The military routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the Commission on Human Rights. Successful completion of these courses is required to complete basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. According to armed force’s human rights office, internal human rights training is conducted from the general headquarters level down to battalion units, totaling hundreds of training exercise annually. From January to August, various military service units conducted human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops with the Commission on Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other NGOs.

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 Commission on Human Rights and other agencies through background investigations. The congressional commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Violations, however, do not preclude promotion.

Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces were poorly resourced and remained largely ineffective. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection. The Commission on Human Rights operated a small 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 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.

Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. In March, two national police officers were charged with sexual assault of two women detained at the Marikina City police station on drug charges. The women claimed that the officers raped them during interrogation and that they reported the rape to the duty jailor upon return to their detention cell. In October the national police’s Women and Children Protection Center charged police Lieutenant Colonel Jigger Noceda with sexual assault for allegedly sexually assaulting former Ozamiz City vice mayor Nova Parojinog at least twice. Parojinog had been in police custody since 2017 on drug charges and was still awaiting a judgement in her case.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were often harsh and life threatening and included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, physical abuse, and a chronic lack of resources including medical care and food.

NGOs reported abuse by prison guards and other inmates was common, but they stated that prisoners, fearing retaliation, generally declined to lodge formal complaints.

The juvenile justice law exempts minors from criminal liability. Drug syndicates often used minors as runners, traffickers, cultivators, or drug den employees. Rescued minors are turned over to the custody of Department of Social Welfare and Development (social welfare department). Police stations had youth relations officers to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the social welfare department provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. From January to July, the department assisted 1,418 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 15 regional youth rehabilitation centers nationwide. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

Physical Conditions: The Bureau of Corrections, under the Department of Justice, administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. Bureau of Corrections facilities operated at almost four times their operating capacity of 11,981, holding 49,701 prisoners.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the national police, controlled 470 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The bureau reported its jails operated at 456 percent over designated capacity. The San Mateo municipal jail in Quezon City was one of the most congested jails in the country with an official capacity of 23 inmates; as of July it held 705 detainees. The Commission on Audit annual report for 2019, released in August, noted that jail congestion remained the biggest problem in the justice system and highlighted the most overcrowded Bureau of Jail Management and Penalogy (BJMP) detention centers: those in Zamboanga Peninsula (821 percent over capacity), Metro Manila (645 percent), Central Visayas (611 percent), Calabarzon (513 percent), and Central Luzon (507 percent). The audit commission stressed that, aside from health and sanitation problems, the jail congestion led to increased gang affiliation among inmates.

Despite an early initiative to put detention facilities on lockdown, overcrowding led to the spread of COVID-19 among inmates. From March 17 to August 14, the government released 58,625 inmates to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the prison population, according to Supreme Court records. In July the Bureau of Corrections spokesperson reported 350 inmates and personnel had contracted the virus, of whom 200 recovered, 129 remained ill, and 21 died.

The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, an agency supervised by the Department of Justice, reported conditions in its rehabilitation centers (called Bahay Pag-asa or Houses of Hope) were worse than in jails, citing the lack of furniture such as beds and cabinets in some centers. There were 85 Bahay Pag-asa centers in the country, 82 run by local government units and three by NGOs.

Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce regulations that require holding male and female inmates in separate facilities and, in national prisons, overseeing them with guards of the same sex. In some facilities authorities did not fully segregate juveniles from adults. The prison services reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with a national average of about 55 prisoners assigned to each custodial staff member. In larger prisons the ratio was higher; for example, in the New Bilibid Prison, one prison guard oversaw 135 prisoners.

Poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, the prison services reported 1,069 total inmate deaths. The Bureau of Corrections attributed 31 of the 498 deaths in its facilities to COVID-19. Observers accused the Bureau of Corrections of using the virus to cover up the unlawful execution of inmates or inmate escapes.

Prison authorities reported that most deaths resulted from illness. Authorities provided Bureau of Corrections inmates with medical care; however, some medical services and treatments were not available. In such cases authorities referred inmates to an outside hospital. Inmates received a medicine allowance of 15 pesos ($0.28) per day.

Juveniles younger than 18 were typically released by court order or following a petition by the Public Attorney’s Office, the inmate’s private lawyer, or through NGO-led appeals. As of July juveniles made up less than 1 percent of the prison population.

The juvenile justice law exempts minors from criminal liability. Drug syndicates often used minors as runners, traffickers, cultivators, or drug den employees. Rescued minors are turned over to the custody of Department of Social Welfare and Development (social welfare department). Police stations had youth relations officers to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the social welfare department provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. From January to July, the department assisted 1,418 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 15 regional youth rehabilitation centers nationwide. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

Opportunities for prisoner recreation, learning, and self-improvement remained scarce.

Administration: Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the Commission on Human Rights referred complaints it received to the appropriate agency.

Authorities generally allowed prisoners and detainees to receive visitors, but local NGOs reported that authorities periodically restricted family visits for some detainees accused of insurgency-related crimes. Prison officials noted that security concerns and space limitations at times also restricted prisoner access to visitors. Beginning in March the prison services suspended visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Muslim officials reported that while Muslim detainees could observe their religion, Roman Catholic mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to prison populations of both Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted international monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, free and timely access to jails and prisons. The constitution grants the Commission on Human Rights authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations. The commission reported some detention facilities lacked an understanding of its mandate and continued to deny their representatives access to detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. As of August the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, did not receive any complaints of arbitrary detention committed by law enforcement agencies or the armed forces. There were, however, numerous credible allegations of arbitrary arrests and detentions by security forces.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official are required for an arrest unless the suspect is observed attempting to commit, in the act of committing, or just after committing an offense; there is probable cause based on personal knowledge that the suspect just committed an offense; or the suspect is an escaped prisoner. Authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours for arrests made without warrants, depending on the seriousness of the crime. In terrorism cases the law permits warrantless arrests and detention without charges for up to 24 days, increased from three days with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law in July.

Detainees have the right to bail, except when held for capital offenses or those punishable by a life sentence. The bail system largely functioned as intended, and suspects were allowed to appeal a judge’s decision to deny bail. The law provides an accused or detained person the right to choose a lawyer and, if the suspect cannot afford one, to have the state provide one. An underresourced Public Attorney’s Office, however, limited access of indigent persons to public defenders.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to detain individuals, including juveniles, arbitrarily and without warrants on charges other than terrorism, especially in areas of armed conflict.

The Commission on Human Rights investigated 119 alleged illegal detention cases involving 306 victims from January to June. In a March case, police officers invited a human rights activist to their police station for a discussion. Upon arrival, officers photographed her with a piece of cardboard with a number and title, questioned her, and placed her in detention, where she remained as of October. The Commission on Human Rights visited the detained woman; however, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed further action.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem due largely to the slow and ineffectual justice system. Approximately 98 percent of prisoners in Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facilities were pretrial detainees; the balance were convicted criminals serving less than three-year sentences. Pending cases were not evenly distributed among the courts, which resulted in some severely overburdened courts. Large jails employed paralegals to monitor inmates’ cases, prevent detention beyond the maximum sentence, and assist with decongestion efforts. The BJMP helped expedite court cases to promote speedy disposition of inmates’ cases. Through this program authorities released 41,555 inmates from BJMP jails from January to July. Nonetheless, pretrial detention in excess of the possible maximum sentence was common, often extending over many years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary; although the government generally respected judicial independence, pressure, threats, and intimidation directed at the judiciary from various sources were reported by NGOs during the year. Six lawyers were killed as of July. Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and sometimes bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders. Insufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays also hindered the judicial system. These factors contributed to widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system delivered due process and equal justice.

Trials took place as a series of separate hearings, often months apart, as witnesses and court time became available, contributing to lengthy delays. There was a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. As of June 30, approximately one-third of authorized bench positions (563 positions) were unfilled. Sharia (Islamic law) court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because applicants must be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. The 56 authorized district and circuit Sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Training for sharia court prosecutors was brief and considered inadequate.

The Supreme Court continued efforts to provide speedier trials, reduce judicial malfeasance, increase judicial branch efficiency, and raise public confidence in the judiciary. It continued to implement guidelines to accelerate resolution of cases in which the maximum penalty would not exceed six years in prison.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a speedy, impartial, and public trial. Trials were generally public, but not timely, and judicial impartiality was widely questioned. The law requires that all persons accused of crimes be informed of the charges against them and grants rights to counsel, adequate time to prepare a defense, and a speedy and public trial before a judge. No criminal proceeding goes forward against a defendant without the presence of a lawyer. The law presumes defendants are innocent. They have the right to confront witnesses against them, be present at their trial, present evidence in their favor, appeal convictions, and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The court may appoint an interpreter if necessary. If the court’s interpreter makes serious mistakes, a party may challenge the interpretation. The government generally implemented these requirements, except for the right to a speedy trial.

Although the law provides that cases should be resolved within three months to two years, depending on the court, trials effectively had no time limits. Government officials estimated it took an average of five to six years to obtain a decision.

Authorities respected a defendant’s right to representation by a lawyer, but poverty often inhibited access to effective legal counsel. The Public Attorney’s Office, which reports to the Department of Justice, did not have the necessary resources to fulfill its constitutional mandate and used its limited resources to represent indigent defendants at trial rather than during arraignments or pretrial hearings. During pretrial hearings courts may appoint any lawyer present in the courtroom to provide on-the-spot counsel to the accused.

Sentencing decisions were not always consistent with legal guidelines, and judicial decisions sometimes appeared arbitrary.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Under a 1945 law, the government defines political prisoners as those who may be accused of any crime against national security. Using this definition, the Bureau of Corrections reported 55 political prisoners in its facilities as of August. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology does not track political prisoners and defines prisoners based only on security risk.

Various human rights NGOs maintained lists of incarcerated persons they considered political prisoners. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, an NGO, tracked political detainees, most of whom were in pretrial detention. The task force noted that in the majority of cases, authorities mixed political prisoners with the general inmate population, except in the New Bilibid Prison, where they held most political prisoners in maximum-security facilities.

Three years after her arrest, during which prosecutors used a variety of legal tactics to delay arraignment, including filing new and amending previous charges, opposition senator Leila de Lima remained in police detention on a charge of conspiracy to commit drug trading. In May her political party–the Liberal Party–called on police to allow de Lima to receive visitors and communicate with others, alleging that police held her incommunicado for a month using the threat of COVID-19 as a pretext. The Liberal Party added that the COVID-19 pandemic must not prevent her “right to information, vital health services, and communication.” By June in-person contact with her legal team, family, and spiritual advisers was restored. In July, one of her accusers, a prison gang leader named Jaybee Sebastian, died in prison, reportedly of COVID-19. He claimed that he provided more than $200,000 in drug money to support de Lima’s 2016 senatorial campaign. De Lima’s case began in 2016 after she opened hearings into killings related to the antidrug campaign. Although detained, de Lima had access to media and some visitors. Her case attracted widespread domestic and international attention, with many observers denouncing the charges as politically motivated.

The government permitted regular access to political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Most analysts regarded the judiciary as independent in civil matters. Complainants have access to local trial courts to seek civil damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for civil complaints, although overburdened local courts often dismissed these cases. No regional human rights tribunals could hear an appeal from the country. Civil cases are subject to the same delays and corruption as criminal proceedings.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The government generally respected citizens’ privacy, although leaders of communist and leftist organizations and rural-based NGOs complained of routine surveillance and harassment. Authorities routinely relied on informant systems to obtain information on terrorist suspects and in the drug war. The reliability of information on illegal narcotics activities gained from these sources remained highly questionable. Although the government generally respected restrictions on search and seizure within private homes, searches without warrants continued. Judges generally declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissible.

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