The Philippines is a multi-party, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. The 2016 presidential election was generally seen as free and fair. Barangay (village) and youth council elections originally scheduled for 2016 were twice postponed but ultimately held in May. These, too, were generally free and fair, although there were reports of violence and vote buying.
Civilian control over the Philippine National Police (PNP) continued to improve but was not fully effective.
Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in the reporting year, albeit at a lower level. From January to September 29, media chronicled 673 deaths in police operations suspected to be connected with the government’s antidrug campaign. The PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) is required to investigate all deaths or injuries committed in the conduct of a police operation. IAS claimed it began investigations of all reported extrajudicial killings. There were no reports that civilian control over other security forces was inadequate.
Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces, vigilantes, and others allegedly connected to the government, and by insurgents; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; criminal libel; killings of and threats against journalists; official corruption and abuse of power; and the use of forced and child labor.
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 following the sharp increase in killings by police in 2016. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of alleged police killings, but said authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns persisted about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures. Slow judicial processes remained an obstacle to bringing government officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses to justice.
Muslim separatists, communist insurgents, and terrorist groups continued to attack government security forces and civilians, causing displacement of civilians and resulting in the deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles. The government called off negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the communist New People’s Army, in June, but continued to explore ways to resume talks.
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. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by antigovernment insurgents and unknown assailants also continued.
From July 2016 to July 2018, law enforcement agencies reported that an average of six persons died daily in antidrug operations. The 105,658 antidrug operations conducted from July 2016 to September 2018 led to the deaths of 4,854 civilians and 87 members of the security forces. Government data on the antidrug campaign were provided through #RealNumbersPH, operated by the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs. In an illustrative case, an unknown gunman shot and killed Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili during a flag ceremony at city hall on July 2. Mayor Halili was on the president’s “narco list” and known for his “Walk of Shame” parade for drug suspects. Three other mayors and two vice-mayors were killed in similar incidents.
The reported number of alleged extrajudicial killings varied widely, since government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency responsible for investigating alleged human rights violations, investigated 301 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 387 victims as of August, including 70 cases of drug-related extrajudicial killings involving 90 victims. The CHR suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) involvement in 208 of these new complaints and the armed forces (AFP) or paramilitary personnel in 19 cases. The CHR attributed the higher number of investigations of extrajudicial killings to an increase in investigations initiated on its own authority based on monitoring news reports, reports to the CHR in social media, or information received following CHR outreach efforts.
The PNP’s Task Force Usig, responsible for investigating and monitoring killings of members of the press, labor activists, and foreigners, opened no new cases from January to July.
The NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), which documented cases of alleged state perpetrated, politically motivated killings carried out by unspecified security forces, was unable to provide data for the reporting year. The TFDP covered such cases separately from killings in the antidrug campaign.
President Duterte continued his anticrime campaign, specifically targeting the widespread trafficking and abuse of illegal narcotics. Fatalities fell dramatically following the PNP’s suspension of the counternarcotics campaign in accordance with a presidential memorandum in October 2017. The president reversed the suspension in December 2017 and reported extrajudicial killings increased, but to a lower level than prior to the suspension. On July 23, in his State of the Nation Address, the president reiterated that the drug war was “far from over” and would continue to be “relentless and chilling.” In specific cases President Duterte commented that if police were found to be corrupt, they should go to jail, or that he would deploy a “special unit” of officers to hunt and kill them.
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. The CHR reported that the PNP refused to share information on investigations into police and vigilante killings, as required by the constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that the PNP must turn over documents. The PNP indicated in May that it had turned over 95 percent of the required records to the solicitor general, although it was not clear whether these records were subsequently turned over to the Supreme Court.
President Duterte continued to maintain lists of suspected drug criminals, including government, police, military officials, and members of the judiciary. Many viewed the list as an implied threat. The list now includes 96 politicians. PDEA Chief Aaron Aquino reported in July that the president would no longer publicly announce the names on the list because of “complications” that followed doing so.
The AFP Human Rights Office reported no cases of forced disappearance attributed to or implicating government authorities from January to August. Separately, the CHR reported five cases of abduction and forced disappearance from January to August.
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 constitution and law prohibit torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. According to the CHR, however, members of the security forces and police allegedly routinely abused and sometimes tortured suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.
As of August the CHR had investigated 30 cases of alleged torture involving 36 victims; it suspected police involvement in eight of the cases. In March, several farmers and miners from the Compostela Valley in Mindanao filed a complaint with the CHR alleging that AFP soldiers beat and burned them in November 2017 because the soldiers suspected the miners and farmers were members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
There were no convictions specifically for torture during the year, but a few cases continued under the antitorture law.
According to NGOs and press reports, mental abuse, including shaming–illegal under the Anti-Torture Act–reportedly occurred, especially in drug cases. In July local media reported on strip searches of drug suspects, including women, conducted in March by Makati City police officers. Videos of the incident showed police officers laughing during the searches, including that of a naked woman.
As part of the antidrug campaign, authorities called on drug criminals to turn themselves in to police to avoid more severe consequences. As of June the PNP reported 1,274,148 surrenders facilitated since July 2016, although civil society actors questioned the official figures. Civil society and other observers claimed a climate of fear led many persons associated with drugs to surrender.
Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. The Center for Women’s Resources reported eight cases of rape involving 16 police officers from January 2017 to July 2018. The Center noted that many of the rapes occurred in connection with police antidrug operations.
The United Nations reported receiving one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Filipino peacekeeper deployed to the UN Mission in Liberia. The case, which alleged the rape of a minor, was reported in 2017. An investigation by both the United Nations and the Philippine government was pending.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were often harsh and potentially life threatening and, in most cases, included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, physical abuse, and constant lack of resources including medical care and food.
NGOs reported that abuses by prison guards and other inmates were common, but they stated that prisoners, fearing retaliation, 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. In accordance with the juvenile justice law, 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 June, the department assisted 1,650 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 16 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 (BuCor), under the Department of Justice, administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. BuCor facilities operated at more than 2.5 times the official capacity of 16,010, holding 43,978 prisoners. The capacity remained the same as in 2017, but the number of prisoners grew by 2,000.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP, controlled 926 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The BJMP reported its jails operated at an average of more than four times their designated capacity; the CHR reported BJMP jails were at 612 percent of capacity. Overcrowding led to a staff-to-detainee ratio of approximately 1:74. The Navotas City Jail, in one of the poorest areas in Metro Manila, had an official capacity of 23 inmates, yet as of July held 937 prisoners. Several NGOs observed that overcrowding was more severe in smaller cities, a condition that reportedly triggered violence among inmates and promoted gang rivalries.
The CHR confirmed that overcrowding had worsened because of the antidrug campaign, and that this was compounded by the June order to arrest loiterers (see “Arbitrary Arrest or Detention” below). According to Manila Police District statistics, 55 inmates died due to overcrowding in detention facilities between July 2016 and June 2018.
Juveniles younger than 18 years 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.
Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce BJMP and BuCor 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. BJMP and BuCor reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with about 70 prisoners assigned to each custodial staff member. In larger prisons, for example, such as the New Bilibid Prison, one prison guard oversaw 100 to 150 prisoners.
Reports indicated that 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, BuCor and the BJMP reported 766 inmate deaths, a death rate of 0.42 percent. Prison authorities report that most deaths were the result of illness. Authorities provided BuCor 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 10 Philippine pesos ($0.19) per day. For example, congestion at the Manila Police District 9, Binan Police Station Custodial Facility, a BJMP Facility in San Pedro City, led some detainees to suffer from an apparently bacterial infection that, in one case, led to death.
Opportunities for prisoner recreation, learning, and self-improvement remained scarce.
Administration: The BJMP helped expedite court cases to promote speedy disposition of inmates’ cases. Through this program, authorities released 53,751 inmates from BJMP jails from January to July.
Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the CHR 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.
Muslim officials reported that, while Muslim detainees were allowed to 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. BuCor has a rehabilitation program that focuses on inmates’ moral and spiritual concerns.
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 CHR authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations. The CHR reported some detention facilities still lacked an understanding of the CHR’s mandate and continued to deny CHR representatives access to detention facilities. For example, the Caloocan Yakap Center, a youth detention home in Metro Manila, required a CHR team to ask the head of the facility for permission to monitor compliance by submitting a letter prior to the visit.
Improvements: To reduce overcrowding, the government began to encourage plea bargaining in drug offense cases.
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 July the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, reported 16 arbitrary detention violations committed by law enforcement agencies or the AFP.
In September, President Duterte declared void on procedural grounds the 2011 amnesty that opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV received for his leadership roles in a 2003 coup attempt and 2007 rebellion. President Duterte’s Presidential Proclamation declared Trillanes’ amnesty void because he did not follow correct procedures when applying for it.
During a June speech to newly promoted officers, President Duterte told police to arrest loiterers as an additional element of the antidrug campaign. While the PNP generally interpreted the remarks as a verbal directive to intensify enforcement of existing local ordinances, such as those against public urination or intoxication, there were also reports of forced confessions of drug use and of deaths in detention among those arrested for loitering. For example, after his arrest in June for loitering, 25-year-old Genesis “Tisoy” Argoncillo was held along with murder suspects despite the minor charges against him. Argoncillo died after cellmates allegedly beat him to death.
On August 16, police detained three lawyers during a drug operation at a bar in Manila. Police asserted that the three harassed them by demanding to see the search warrant, blocking their access to parts of the building, and taking photographs. The lawyers, representing one of the bar’s owners, claimed they were present to take notes and observe the operation. Police charged the three with obstruction of justice.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The 180,000 member 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 2017 declaration of martial law for the entire region of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago was extended to the end of December 2018, giving the military expanded powers. Human rights groups continued to express concern about the potential for human rights abuses.
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 PNP’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption was endemic within the force continued.
PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde, appointed in April, publicly reiterated his desire to cleanse the PNP ranks of corruption. This included reporting to the IAS more than 600 officers who allegedly committed human rights violations during antidrug operations since July 2016, and having the PNP’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force monitor police personnel suspected of illegal activities. From January to July, the PNP reported that 441 of its personnel were accused of committing human rights violations. Of these, it claimed, court charges were pending in 375 cases, 50 personnel were exonerated; 10 cases were dismissed; four persons were dismissed from service, one suspended, and one demoted. An additional 21 PNP personnel were dismissed from service for actions taken in antidrug operations. The IAS, mandated to ensure police operate within the law, remained largely ineffective. In April the IAS reported that from 2015 to 2017, final reports with a recommendation for action had been submitted to PNP leadership in only 721 out of 2,431 cases. The IAS reported that manpower and resource limitations hampered the legally required investigations into deaths resulting from police operations, but asserted nonetheless that 100 percent of the deaths in police shootings resulted from legitimate, lawful police actions.
Other government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces were poorly resourced and remained largely ineffective.
In the 2017 killing of juvenile Kian delos Santos, however, prosecutors and the courts moved swiftly to hold the officers directly responsible to account. On November 29, the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court found three police officers guilty of the killing, sentencing each to 40 years’ imprisonment and ordering them to pay the victim’s family 345,000 pesos ($6,450). Previously, President Duterte had said of the killing, which sparked a public backlash against the antidrug campaign, “this is not performance of duty.” The presidential spokesperson hailed the verdict. Human rights activists welcomed the convictions, but also called on the government to take far more action to bring perpetrators of killings to justice.
President Duterte publicly condemned corruption in government and the security forces. From January to August, complainants reported 114 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 August all cases, except one dismissed case, remained open pending additional investigation.
Many cases from previous years were still open. Of the police officers involved cases of killings in 2017 of minors allegedly involved in the drug trade, only five were jailed and indicted; four of their superiors were cleared of command responsibility and promoted.
Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the PNP through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights 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. Several NGOs suggested that PNP training courses should have a follow up mechanism to determine the effectiveness of each session.
The AFP Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through July, the office identified and investigated five reported incidents, including a forced disappearance, two extrajudicial killings, and an alleged murder.
The military 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 complete 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 59 human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops. CHR representatives noted that participants were highly engaged.
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.
Prolonged delays in the justice system reinforced the perception of impunity for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of human rights abuses.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official are required for an arrest unless 1) the suspect is observed attempting to commit, in the act of committing, or just after committing an offense; 2) there is probable cause based on personal knowledge that the suspect just committed an offense; or 3) 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 three days.
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. Due to an underresourced Public Attorney’s Office, however, indigent persons had limited access 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.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem due largely to the slow and ineffectual justice system. According to the Supreme Court, there were more than 780,000 pending cases before 2,617 first and second level courts nationwide, 78 percent of which were pending before 1,054 regional trial courts. 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 law provides for an independent judiciary and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. 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.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was removed from office in June due to her alleged failure to submit all wealth declaration documents when she applied for the position in 2012. Human rights groups alleged Sereno’s vocal opposition to the conduct of the drug war played a significant role in the decision.
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 prosecutor positions (1,060 positions) were unfilled. Sharia (Islamic law) court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because of the requirement that applicants be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. Sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Although the Prosecutor General received authority to hire hundreds of new prosecutors for sharia courts, training for them was of short duration 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. In 2016 the judiciary instituted new court rules and procedures for case processing that limited the postponement of hearings and made other procedural changes to expedite case processing. Implementation of the most significant part of the reform, e‑Courts and the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases in Pilot Courts, began in 2017.
The constitution provides for the right to a speedy, impartial, and public trial. An independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although not in a timely manner. 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 can 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. In September a court convicted retired general Jovito Palparan and two subordinates of kidnapping and illegal detention after a four-year-long trial. The incident, in 2006, involved the disappearance of two university students. Palparan, who was allegedly also deeply involved in extrajudicial killings and torture, was sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction was a positive example of the courts’ ability to hold security force leaders accountable for their actions.
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, BuCor reported 185 political prisoners in its facilities as of August. The BJMP 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. The TFDP tracked political detainees, most of whom were in pretrial detention. The TFDP noted that, in the majority of cases, authorities mixed political prisoners with the general inmate population, except in the National Bilibid Prison, where they held most political prisoners in maximum-security facilities.
Two years after her arrest, during which prosecutors used a variety of legal tactics to delay arraignment, including filing new and amending previous charges, Senator Leila de Lima was arraigned in August on a charge of conspiracy to commit drug trading. An arraignment scheduled for May was postponed when prosecutors sought another opportunity to revise the charges. The opening of the trial in September was postponed when a prosecution witness recanted his testimony. De Lima’s case began in 2016 after she opened hearings into killings related to the antidrug campaign. Although in detention, de Lima had access to the 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 and impartial 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. There were no regional human rights tribunals that could hear an appeal from the country.
The government generally respected citizens’ privacy, although leaders of communist and leftist organizations and rural-based NGOs alleged routine surveillance and harassment. Authorities routinely relied on informant systems to obtain information on terrorist suspects and for the antidrug campaign. Although the government generally respected restrictions on search and seizure within private homes, searches without warrants continued to occur. Judges generally declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissible.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement these laws effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
President Duterte spoke frequently and forcefully about his desire to fight corruption and fired public officials, including political allies, over allegations of corruption. In August the president fired 20 high level AFP officials at the V. Luna Medical Center near Manila for alleged corrupt practices, including ghost purchasing, circumventing mandatory bidding processes, and using fake suppliers.
Corruption: To combat corruption, the constitution establishes the independent Office of the Ombudsman, an appellate level anticorruption court, and the Commission on Audit. All three organizations were underresourced, but they actively collaborated with the public and civil society and appeared to operate independently and to use their limited resources effectively. Despite government efforts to file charges and obtain convictions in a number of cases, officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with relative impunity.
Investigations into the 2014 “pork barrel” scandal about the diversion of congressional funds to fake NGOs continued domestically and internationally. A foreign government indicted Janet Napoles for transferring 1.07 billion pesos ($20.0 million) obtained from a bribery and fraud scheme. The Office of the Ombudsman had filed charges in the Sandiganbayan against a number of persons in the affair, including congressional representatives, NGO officials, and private individuals.
From January to September, the Office of the Ombudsman had won 436 convictions in 578 corruption cases. This was a dramatic increase in both convictions and cases tried compared with the same period in 2017. The reasons for the change were unclear as of December.
A former Officer-in-Charge and Regional Executive Director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison and disqualification from public office for soliciting 2.5 million pesos ($46,800) for the issuance of free patents over public lands in General Santos City. A former senior accountant of the Manila International Airport Authority was convicted and sentenced to nine to 12 years in prison with perpetual disqualification from holding public office for receiving 3.49 million pesos ($65,300) from a contractor with several projects with the authority.
Financial Disclosure: The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires all public officials and employees to file, under oath, a Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) and to disclose their personal business interests and financial connections, as well as those of their spouses and unmarried children living in their households. Nondisclosure is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine not exceeding 5,000 pesos ($93.50), or both, and, at the discretion of the court, disqualification from holding public office. The Civil Service Commission implements and enforces the law, forwarding nondisclosure cases to the Office of the Ombudsman for prosecution.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s alleged failure to submit all required SALN documents when she applied for the position in 2012 was the basis for a petition challenging the legality of her tenure. An 8-6 majority of the court voted in favor of the petition, ousting her from office in June. Legal analysts took issue with the decision, arguing that failure to submit SALN documents has a one year statute of limitations and that the use of a petition by the court violated Congress’ exclusive constitutional role in removing impeachable officials.