The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. Midterm elections in May for 12 (of 24 total) senators, all congressional representatives, and local government leaders were seen as generally free and fair, despite reports of violence and vote buying. The ruling party and allies won all 12 Senate seats and maintained a roughly two-thirds majority in the 306-seat House of Representatives. Barangay (village) and youth council elections originally scheduled for 2021 were rescheduled for December 5, 2022 so that local and national elections will occur in the same year.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the Department of the Interior. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (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 the Mindanao region. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The PNP Special Action Force is responsible 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 until the end of the year, giving the military expanded powers in the area. 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. 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. Civilian control over security forces was not fully effective.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; reports of forced disappearance by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; torture by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; arbitrary detention by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; corruption; and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by terrorists and groups in rebellion against the government.
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 continued following the increase in killings by police in 2016. Significant concerns also persisted about impunity for the security forces, 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.
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. Prolonged delays in the justice system reinforced the perception of impunity for the security forces and for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of corruption and human rights abuses.
President Duterte spoke frequently about his desire to fight corruption and fired public officials, including political allies, over allegations of corruption. In his July 22 state of the nation address, Duterte said his administration had zero tolerance for corruption, citing the Bureau of Customs (BOC) as one of the most corrupt government agencies. He directed the Office of the Ombudsman to file administrative charges against 64 BOC personnel for alleged links to corruption.
Human rights groups continued to express concern about the contribution of corruption to abuses committed by the PNP 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 PNP’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption in the police was endemic continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS) remained largely ineffective. From July 2016 to April 2019, senior government officials stated that the PNP received 14,724 complaints of human rights violations against its officers. Of these, the PNP recommended disciplinary procedures in 3,619 cases and decided to drop charges in 588 cases. The disposition of the remaining cases was unknown. Although the IAS 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. Additionally, as of April the PNP reported that 7,867 police received administrative punishments, 4,100 were suspended, and 2,367 were dismissed; the number of other punishments including reprimands, demotions, forfeiture of wages, and deprivation of privileges was unknown.
From January to August, complainants reported 68 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 remained open pending additional investigation.
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, no extrajudicial killings or murders, or forced disappearances were identified and investigated by the office.
The military routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the CHR. Successful completion of these courses is required to complete basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. According to AFP’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 AFP service units conducted five human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops with the CHR. CHR representatives noted that participants were highly engaged. In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross and NGOs provided training throughout the year.
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.
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 CHR 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.
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 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.
Between January and July, the Office of the Ombudsman won 334 convictions in 528 corruption cases. While the total number of cases in this period was down only a little over 10 percent, the conviction rate fell from just over 75 percent in the same period in 2018 to just over 63 percent during the year.
In July a former mayor of Tabuk, Kalinga, and his wife were convicted and sentenced to between 16 years and 10 months to up to 34 years in prison for two counts of direct bribery. In March the governor of Samar and two other former provincial staff members were convicted of graft and collectively sentenced to 115 years in prison for the “anomalous purchase” of emergency supplies worth 16.1 million pesos ($301,000) following a typhoon in 2001.
Financial Disclosure: The law 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.
A former BOC deputy commissioner was charged with making false statements and with three counts of failing to make certain disclosures in his SALN; the falsification charge was withdrawn, he pled guilty to the other charges and was removed from office.
A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were under pressure not to cooperate or respond to the views of international human rights organizations. Local human rights activists continued to encounter occasional harassment, mainly from security forces or local officials from areas in which incidents under investigation occurred.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In March the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court came into effect. This step followed the February 2018 announcement by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) of a preliminary examination of potential crimes, including extrajudicial and other killings, allegedly committed since July 1, 2016, in the government’s antidrug campaign. In a March 2018 speech, President Duterte ordered security forces not to respond to any probe or investigation requests on human rights abuses in the country, and later that month the country submitted a formal notification of withdrawal from the ICC.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The CHR’s constitutional mandate is to protect and promote human rights; investigate all human rights violations, including those reported by NGOs; and monitor government compliance with international human rights treaty obligations. Approximately three-quarters of the country’s 42,000 villages had human rights action centers that coordinated with CHR regional offices. Although the legislature has doubled the CHR’s budget in the last two to three years, despite the executive’s efforts to reduce it, the CHR nonetheless lacked sufficient resources to investigate and follow up on all cases presented to its regional and subregional offices.
The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency that responds to complaints about public officials and employees. It has the authority to make administrative rulings and seek prosecutions.
The Presidential Human Rights Committee serves as a multiagency coordinating body on human rights problems. The committee’s responsibilities include compiling the government’s submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review. Many NGOs considered it independent but with limited ability to influence human rights policy. The committee also chairs the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons, also known as the AO35 committee. This body determines the appropriate mechanisms to resolve cases of political violence. It inventories all cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations and classifies cases as unresolved, under investigation, under preliminary investigation, or under trial.
The Regional Human Rights Commission is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with monitoring alleged human rights violations in the BARMM.