Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties ranging from 12 to 40 years’ imprisonment with pardon or parole possible only after 30 years’ imprisonment. Conviction can also result in a lifetime ban from political office. Penalties for forcible sexual assault range from six to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological harm or abuse to women and children committed by spouses, partners, or parents. Penalties depend on the severity of the crime and may include imprisonment or fines.
Authorities generally took reports of rape seriously. NGOs noted that in smaller localities perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution.
Statistics were unavailable on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for cases filed by the PNP. Likewise, difficulty in obtaining rape convictions remained a challenge to effective enforcement. In the year to August, the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center recorded 944 cases of rape involving female victims, of which 463 were filed in courts and 320 referred to prosecutors. The rest were either dropped, settled out of court, or dismissed. Additionally, BuCor reported 9,737 inmates in its facilities were convicted of rape, 213 of these were remanded in custody during the year to June.
NGOs reported that because of cultural and social stigmatization, many women did not report rape or domestic violence. Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued; the Center for Women’s Resources stated that 56 police officers were involved in 33 rape cases from July 2016 to October 2018.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. According to the PNP, reported acts of domestic violence against women slightly decreased slightly from 11,012 in January to July 2018 versus 10,976 for the same period during the year.
The PNP and the Social Welfare Department (DSWD) both maintained help desks to assist survivors of violence against women and to encourage reporting. In addition, the DSWD operated residential centers and community-based programs to assist women and children who were victims of rape, domestic violence, and other abuse. By the end of the second quarter, the DSWD reported it had assisted 194 women and girls who were, specifically victims of rape. With the assistance of NGOs, the CHR, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers continued to receive gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The PNP maintained a women and children’s unit in 1,802 police stations throughout the country with 2,009 help desks to deal with abuse cases. The PNP assigned 5,482 officers to the desks nationwide, almost 98 percent of them women. The law provides 10 days of paid leave for domestic violence victims.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations are punishable by imprisonment from one to six months, a fine of from 10,000 to 20,000 pesos ($187-$374), or both.
Sexual harassment remained widespread and underreported, including in the workplace due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs. A 2016 Social Weather Stations study showed that 60 percent of women in Metro Manila were harassed at least once in their lifetime.
In July, President Duterte signed the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act to prevent and punish acts of sexual harassment in public places, online workplaces, and educational institutions. For example, in October a passenger complained of harassment by a driver for an application-based ride service. Senator Risa Hontiveros, author of the law in the Senate, urged the ride service to investigate and resolve the case using the newly signed law. Despite the president’s support for the new law, the CHR observed that on multiple occasions his rhetoric promoted violence against women. For example, speaking at commencement ceremonies at the Philippine Military Academy in May, President Duterte joked about students raping local women, asked those guilty to identify themselves, and then proclaimed a presidential pardon for their crimes.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: In law but not always in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded to men, and the law seeks to eliminate discrimination against women. The law accords women the same property rights as men. In Muslim and indigenous communities, however, property ownership law or tradition grants men more property rights than women.
No law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring, although the law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex. Nonetheless, women continued to face discrimination on the job as well as in hiring (see section 7.d.).
The law does not provide for divorce. Legal annulments and separation are possible, and courts generally recognized divorces obtained in other countries if one of the parties was a foreigner. These options, however, are costly, complex, and not readily available to the poor. The Office of the Solicitor General is required to oppose requests for annulment under the constitution. Informal separation is common but brings with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from birth to a citizen parent and, in certain circumstances, from birth within the country’s territory to alien parents. The government promoted birth registration, and authorities immediately registered births in health facilities. Births outside of facilities were less likely to be registered promptly, if at all. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) estimated that during the year 40 percent of five million unregistered residents were children younger than age 14, primarily among Muslim and indigenous groups. The DSWD continued working closely with local governments to improve registration; the PSA, with support from local government units, operated mobile birth registration units to reach rural areas. The lack of a birth certificate does not generally result in a denial of education or other services, but it may cause delays in some circumstances, for example if a minor becomes involved in the court system.
Education: Education is free and compulsory through age 18, but the quality of education was often poor and access difficult, especially in rural areas where substandard infrastructure makes traveling to school challenging. Supplemental costs, for supplies or uniforms, can in some cases be a barrier to students from poor families. The Department of Education prioritized improving resources at and access to the most isolated schools, to include increasing the budget during the year for schools in the BARMM, the region with the lowest rate of school attendance.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. Through the second quarter of the year, the DSWD served 1,827 children in DSWD centers and residential care facilities nationwide. Several cities ran crisis centers for abused women and children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18 years; anyone younger than 21 must have parental consent. Under Muslim personal law, Muslim boys may marry at 15 and girls may marry when they reach puberty.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial exploitation of children and child pornography and defines purchasing commercial sex acts from a child as a trafficking offense. The statutory rape law criminalizes sex with minors under 12 and sex with a child under 18 involving force, threat, or intimidation. The maximum penalty for child rape is 40 years in prison plus a lifetime ban from political office. The production, possession, and distribution of child pornography are illegal, and penalties range from one month to life in prison, plus fines of from 50,000 to five million pesos ($935 to $93,500), depending on the gravity of the offense.
While authorities endeavored to enforce the law, inadequate prosecutorial resources and capacity to analyze computer evidence were challenges to effective enforcement. The government made serious efforts to address these crimes and collaborated with foreign law enforcement, NGOs, and international organizations. In October the Department of Justice’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking partnered with the International Justice Mission, the Digital Freedom Network, and others to conduct several Prosecuting Online Sexual Exploitation training seminars for prosecutors and law enforcement officers on both prosecuting cases and obtaining and presenting digital evidence. Alumni of this program successfully convicted 33 online sexual exploitation of children cases in the year to October.
Despite the penalties, law enforcement agencies and NGOs reported that criminals and family members continued to use minors in the production of pornography and in cybersex activities. The country remained the top global internet source of online child pornography.
Children continued to be victims of sex trafficking and the country remained a destination for foreign and domestic child sex tourists. Additionally, the live internet broadcast of young Filipino girls, boys, and sibling groups performing sex acts for paying foreigners continued. The government continued to prosecute accused pedophiles and deport those who were foreigners and to stop the entry of identified convicted sex offenders. To reduce retraumatization of child victims and spare children from having to testify, the government increased its use of plea agreements in online child sexual exploitation cases, which significantly reduced the case disposition time. In February, for example, a woman pled guilty to attempted trafficking in persons, child abuse, and possession of child pornography. Acting on a tip, police caught the woman offering to sell streaming video of her nine-year-old daughter performing sexual acts. The daughter and four other children were removed from the home. Using the aforementioned tools, police closed the case in three months without retraumatizing the children.
The NBI and the PNP worked closely with the labor department to target and close facilities suspected of sex trafficking of minors. From January to June, DSWD data reported 29 cases in which children were victims of sex trafficking and 13 cases of child pornography.
Displaced Children: While there were no recent, reliable data, involved agencies and organizations agreed there were hundreds of thousands of street children in the country. The problem was endemic nationwide, and encompassed local children and the children of IDPs, asylum seekers, and refugees. Many street children were involved in begging, garbage scavenging, and petty crime.
Service agencies, including the DSWD, provided residential and community-based services to thousands of street children nationwide, including in a limited number of residential facilities and the growing Comprehensive Program for Street Children, Street Families, and Indigenous Peoples. This program included activity centers, education and livelihood aid, and community service programs.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
An estimated 2,000 persons of Jewish heritage, almost all foreign nationals, lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law aims to provide affordable and accessible mental health services and provide for equal access for persons with disabilities to all public buildings and establishments.
The National Council for Disability Affairs formulated policies and coordinated the activities of government agencies for the rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance of persons with disabilities and their integration into the mainstream of society.
The law was not effectively enforced, and many barriers remained for persons with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities contended that equal access laws were ineffective due to weak implementing regulations, insufficient funding, and inadequately focused integrative government programs. The great majority of public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities. Many schools had architectural barriers that made attendance difficult for persons with disabilities. Government efforts to improve access to transportation for persons with disabilities were limited.
Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination and other challenges in finding employment (see section 7.d.).
Some children with disabilities attended schools in mainstream or inclusive educational settings. The Department of Education’s 648 separate education centers did not provide nationwide coverage, and the government lacked a clear system for informing parents of children with disabilities of their educational rights and did not have a well-defined procedure for reporting discrimination in education.
From January to August, the DSWD provided services to 1,492 persons with disabilities in assisted living centers and community-based vocational centers nationwide, significantly fewer than reported in 2018. The DSWD attributed the lower figures to its community-based centers providing only partial data to date. If a person with disabilities suffered violence, access to after-care services was available through the DSWD, crisis centers, and NGOs. Of local government units, 60 percent had a Persons with Disability Office to assist in accessing services including health, rehabilitation, and education.
The constitution provides for the right of persons with physical disabilities to vote. The Commission on Elections determines the capacity of persons with mental disabilities to vote during the registration process, and citizens may appeal exclusions and inclusions in court. A federal act authorizes the commission to establish accessible voting centers exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.
Although no specific laws discriminate against indigenous people, the geographical remoteness of the areas many inhabit and cultural bias prevented their full integration into society. Indigenous children often suffered from lack of health care, education, and other basic services. Government officials indicated approximately 80 percent of the country’s government units complied with the longstanding legal requirement that indigenous peoples be represented in policy-making bodies and local legislative councils. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples in September stated that at the barangay level in Cordillera Province only half of the local councils were in compliance with the law.
In October the Department of Education officially ordered the closure of 55 schools for Lumad children operated by the NGO Salugpongan in the Davao region for alleged deviations from the basic curriculum, teaching antigovernment ideologies, and providing instruction in the use of weapons and guerilla tactics. The allegations were formally set out in a report by the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, set up by President Duterte in December 2018. Duterte had himself previously leveled the same charges and threatened to bomb the schools. Some Lumad leaders had also previously called for the closure of the schools for serving as recruitment centers for the NPA. Critics argued, however, that the report’s findings were based on unsubstantiated testimony from a single witness, a former student. Lumad students were reassigned to local public schools. The Save Our Schools network of civic groups said the step was unjustified and taken at the behest of the AFP, which largely sees the Lumads as allies of the NPA.
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, a government agency staffed by tribal members, was responsible for implementing constitutional provisions to protect indigenous peoples. It has authority to award certificates identifying “ancestral domain lands” based on communal ownership, thereby stopping tribal leaders from selling the land.
Armed groups frequently recruited from indigenous populations. Indigenous peoples’ lands were also often the site of armed encounters related to resource extraction or intertribal disputes, which sometimes resulted in displacement or killings. In an August Senate Cultural Communities Committee hearing, three indigenous persons testified about their involvement with the NPA.
National laws neither criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults nor prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Eighteen cities, six provinces, three barangays, and one municipality have enacted a version of an antidiscrimination ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–rights.
Officials prohibit transgender individuals from obtaining passports that reflect their gender identity. Authorities print the gender at birth, as reported on the birth certificate, in the individual’s passport, which posed difficulty for transgender persons seeking to travel, including instances of transgender individuals denied boarding.
NGOs reported incidents of discrimination and abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, including in employment (see section 7.d.), education, health care, housing, and social services. In August custodial staff denied a transgender woman access to the women’s restroom at a mall in Quezon City, the first municipality in the country to adopt an antidiscrimination ordinance. The transgender woman recorded the incident. After public backlash, Quezon City mayor Joy Belmonte condemned the incident and ordered a check of the mall’s compliance with the city’s ordinance requiring “all-gender” toilets in both public and private establishments.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, including in access to basic health and social services. Nevertheless, there was anecdotal evidence of discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in the government’s provision of health care, housing, employment, and insurance services (see section 7.d.).