Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
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 a limited number of investigations into whether security force killings were justifiable, such as the national police Internal Affairs Service, the armed forces’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict (formerly 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 March, nine human rights activists were killed and six arrested in an operation conducted by security forces in Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas Provinces, dubbed afterwards by the media as “Bloody Sunday.” The crackdown happened two days after public remarks by President Duterte encouraged law enforcement authorities to kill communist rebels, saying, “If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill, kill them, don’t mind human rights, I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms.” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced that investigating the operation would be a priority for the government’s 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). As of July, however, human rights organizations reported no significant developments in the case and the completion of one crime scene investigation related to the AO35 committee’s work.
Law enforcement authorities conducted approximately 20,000 antidrug operations from January to August 1, according to government data. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, one of the lead agencies implementing the government’s drug war alongside the Philippine National Police (PNP), reported on the government’s official drug war tracker (#RealNumbersPH) 180 suspects killed and 34,507 arrested during drug operations conducted from January to August.
The reported number of extrajudicial killings varied widely, as the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency responsible for investigating possible human rights violations, investigated 100 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings as of August. The cases involved 130 victims and allegedly were perpetrated by 39 PNP and eight Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel, five insurgents, three local government officials, and 45 unidentified persons. The commission also investigated 49 specifically drug-related extrajudicial killings with 53 victims, and suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency involvement in 45 of these new complaints and unidentified persons in four cases.
In July media reported on a study on extrajudicial killings by the Violence, Democracy, and Human Rights in the Philippines project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center. The study assessed state violence in the country, noting that drug-related killings “remained persistent across the years,” with 2016, 2018, and 2021 recognized as the “bloodiest years,” averaging two to three persons killed a day. The study also highlighted that drug war hotspots remained consistent: Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, and Nueva Ecija Provinces. During the year there were notably intensified operations in West Mindanao, particularly in Davao del Sur and South Cotabato Provinces. From January to June, the NGO Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center documented 18 deaths of minors in antidrug operations.
Media reported continued attacks on human rights defenders. In July, hours before President Duterte’s State of the Nation address, two activists, Marlon Napire and Jaymar Palero, who were spray painting Duterte Ibagsak (Oust Duterte) on a bridge in Albay, Bicol Province, were shot and killed by police. Police asserted that Palero, a member of a farmer’s organization in Albay, and Napire, a member of human rights organization Karapatan’s Bicol chapter, were armed, which led police to shoot them. Karapatan condemned the killing, asserting that the two activists were unarmed and carrying only cans of paint. Witnesses claimed not hearing any gunshots when the police officers left the area with Palero and Napire in custody. Palero’s mother questioned police claims of a shootout and, having recovered the body hours later, insisted her son’s battered face, removed nails, and gunshot wounds showed signs of torture.
Local and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch described widespread impunity for killings. There were no prosecutions or convictions for extrajudicial killings in the year to October and three since the start of the drug war in 2016. In June 2020 the Department of Justice formed a committee to investigate drug-related deaths from police operations. As of October, the committee investigated and established administrative liability in 52 of the 61 cases the PNP opened for the committee’s review. The departmental investigation, while being conducted just for show according to many in civil society, released information pushing back against the PNP self-defense narrative, as the early investigation results uncovered incomplete police records and that many victims tested negative for gunpowder residue. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service investigated killings of 463 suspects from 400 antidrug operations from January to July.
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 April, seven police officers from the Valencia City, Bukidnon Province police drug enforcement unit were relieved from duty for allegedly planting evidence on a suspect killed in a buy-bust operation; all were under investigation as of October. The PNP Northern Mindanao Regional Internal Affairs Service also recommended the relief of the Valencia City police chief over the incident. On March 10, a video circulated online showing a man, said to be a police officer, putting a revolver beside a corpse. The Regional Internal Affairs Service stated the person who uploaded the video reported the incident happened on February 20 in Barangay Batangan in Valencia City.
President Duterte continued to maintain lists (“narco-lists”) of persons he claimed were suspected drug criminals, including government, police, military, and judicial officials. In June a former Maguindanao town mayor, who was on a government narco-list, was killed after allegedly grabbing his police escort’s service firearm while enroute to the Philippine National Police headquarters after his arrest in Batangas City.
The armed forces’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict, formerly the Human Rights Office but with the same functions, reported no cases of forced disappearance attributed to or implicating the armed forces from January to July. The CHR, however, reported eight persons were victims of abduction and forced disappearance from January to August. Armed forces members perpetrated two of these cases; communist insurgents, another two; national police members, one; alleged members of the National Bureau of Investigation, one; and those responsible for the remaining cases were unidentified.
In September, Karapatan confirmed the body of farmers’ group organizer Elena Tijamo was found in Manila. In June 2020 unidentified individuals in civilian clothing removed Tijamo from her home on Bantayan Island. Tijamo was an executive with an agricultural organization that the military in 2019 had declared to be a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines’ New People’s Army (NPA). Tijamo’s family said they were still able to communicate with her after her abduction and that she said her abductors would release her after the pandemic lockdowns ended.
Kidnappings 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. In July the PNP’s Anti-Kidnapping Group reported that seven men, later identified as five policemen and two civilians, kidnapped and burned to death Muslim businesswoman Nadia Casar. Her body was found 11 days after the kidnapping. The involved policemen were dismissed and as of October were in police custody along with one of the civilian suspects. The other civilian remained at large.
The law allows family members of alleged victims of disappearances to compel government agencies to provide statements in court about what they know about 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.
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 CHR, 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 August, the CHR had investigated 21 cases of alleged torture involving 25 victims; it suspected police involvement in 17 of the cases. The NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines monitored one torture case as of October, which happened in 2012 but was reported to the task force in early 2021.
In July the CHR investigated the death and alleged torture of Carlo Layaoag, a person with a mental disability who was accused of stealing cable wires in Barangay 3, Coron, Palawan Province. In a video shared by police, two men, one reportedly a town councilor, were seen publicly harassing Layaoag. Another video showed a man trying to use a handsaw to cut Layaoag, who was brought to the police station afterwards. Police noticed Layaoag’s condition and took him to the hospital where he died the next day. Torture charges were filed against the town councilor and the others involved after the results of the report were released.
NGOs and media reported local governments and law enforcement authorities used physical and 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 General Trias, Cavite Province, detained 28-year-old Darren Penaredondo for curfew violations. According to media reports, Penaredondo and others were taken to the local municipal plaza by police, made to do 100 push-ups, and then forced to repeat the exercise because they were not in sync, ultimately completing 300 repetitions. Penaredondo then reportedly struggled to walk home, where he lost consciousness and died hours later.
Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. On April 5, authorities accused 11 Cebu City police officers of robbery, extortion, and the rape of two women detained separately at the Cebu City police station for alleged possession of firearms and illegal drugs. One woman claimed that the officers searched her house without a warrant, took her belongings and, after not finding any firearms, arrested her, and brought her into a secret room, instead of a detention cell. She was later forced by one of the police officers, Staff Sergeant Celso Colita, to withdraw money. Colita took the cash from her and allegedly brought her to a motel where she was raped. The second woman claimed she was physically tortured by officers who attempted to submerge her head in a pail of water to force her to confess where she kept her “drug money.” The PNP Central Visayas Unit and the CHR began investigating the complaints, and the police station chief was relieved from duty. On April 19, however, the woman allegedly raped by Sergeant Colita was shot and killed. The CHR Central Visayas office revealed she had been receiving threats from Colita. Police stated Colita took his own life while being questioned about the complainant’s death.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the PNP. 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 AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict reported that, from January to October, no member of the military was under investigation for alleged extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, or other rights abuses.
In April the Office of the Ombudsman cleared officers from the Manila Police District’s Raxabago Station 1 of involvement in a 2017 incident in which 12 individuals were found detained in a secret cell hidden behind a bookshelf, citing “not enough proof of bad faith.” The CHR insisted, however, that the Manila police clearly violated human rights standards, as well as the PNP mandate to “serve and protect,” and characterized the decision as a setback in the efforts to stop police abuse and improve accountability.
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 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. The PNP, however, reported that its internal cleansing program led to 166 persons facing disciplinary sanctions between March and August; 75 of the 166 were dismissed from service, 48 penalized with one rank demotion, and 43 suspended.
In October the Quezon City Regional Trial Court acquitted 19 police officers, led by Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos, allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of former Albuera, Leyte, mayor Roland Espinosa while the mayor was in police custody. Media and other observers widely criticized the decision as unjust and corrupt. The 19 officers were charged with killing Espinosa in his cell after President Duterte tagged him as a drug criminal along with many other government, police, and judicial officials. Marcos, the former chief of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8, was promoted to chief of the 12th Region group 15 months after the Espinosa killing.
To try to ensure dismissed personnel would not be rehired, in August, PNP chief Eleazar ordered the Directorate for Personnel and Records Management to create a database of officers removed from service and that all appeals filed by dismissed personnel be immediately resolved. The PNP’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force also monitored police personnel suspected of illegal activities.
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 PNP 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 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 the AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict, internal human rights training was conducted from the general headquarters level down to battalion units, totaling hundreds of training exercises annually. From January to August, various military service units conducted human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops with the CHR, 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 CHR 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.
Witnesses to abuses were often unable to obtain protection. The CHR operated a small witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the drug war. 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.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, as of September the government continued to investigate two cases of child rape involving Philippine peacekeepers in Liberia in 2017 and Haiti in 2020.
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.
Gang activity was rampant in most prisons. Domestic and foreign media reports suggested that, given inadequate staffing levels, gangs effectively served as the de facto sources of discipline and many services. Violence between gangs and individual members of different gangs was common.
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 four times their operating capacity of 11,981, holding 48,337 prisoners.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP, 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 397 percent over designated capacity as of July. The Dasmarinas City jail for men in Cavite Province was one of the most congested jails in the country; with an official capacity of 53 inmates, as of July it held 1,191 detainees. The Commission on Audit annual report for 2020, released in September, noted that jail congestion remained the biggest problem in the justice system and highlighted the most overcrowded Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) detention centers: those in Zamboanga Peninsula (921 percent over capacity) and Metro Manila (745 percent). The audit commission noted that although the total jail population decreased from 2018 to 2019, the congestion rate only decreased by 1 percent, possibly attributable to the temporary closure of various jail facilities nationwide for reconstruction or redevelopment.
Persistent congestion resulted in health and sanitation problems among inmates. Overcrowding in detention facilities contributed to the continued spread of COVID-19 among inmates. From January to July, the BJMP reported 20 COVID-19-related deaths while the Bureau of Corrections reported 32 confirmed and suspected COVID-19-related inmate deaths. COVID-19 vaccines were made available to inmates in Bureau of Corrections and BJMP facilities.
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 approximately 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.
Opportunities for prisoner recreation, education, and self-improvement were rare.
Poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in detention and correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, the prison services reported 1,045 total inmate deaths. There were some reported deaths of high-profile prisoners due to COVID-19, most notably of two witnesses against Senator Leila de Lima (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
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 ($0.30) 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 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 the Department of Social Welfare and Development (social welfare department). Police stations had youth relations officers to attempt 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. 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. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.
Administration: 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.
Prison services suspended visits since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, however, 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 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, and other civil society groups, such as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 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 commission continued its jail visitation program throughout the year but with additional pandemic-related restrictions and protocols required by jail management, such as wearing personal protective equipment and presenting a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test. Some jails in areas under certain community quarantine classifications also allowed virtual jail visitation.
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; however, the government and its agents frequently disregarded 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.
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. When one of the above criteria is met and an arrest takes place without a warrant, the court subpoenas the suspect allowing for a preliminary investigation. 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.
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.
As of August the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, had not received 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. The NGO Center for Trade Union and Human Rights documented the illegal arrest of seven labor union leaders from January to July.
In March the center recorded the illegal arrest of the leader of the farmers’ group Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang (Central) Luzon, Joseph Canlas, after a raid conducted by the PNP and its Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Central Luzon for alleged possession of firearms and explosives. Canlas, who died of COVID-19 at the detention cell in May, was previously “red-tagged” (the act of labelling, branding, naming, and accusing individuals or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists that is used as a strategy by state agents against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State’) for allegedly recruiting members of the NPA.
Ethnic Lumad (an indigenous group in Mindanao) activist and Karapatan paralegal officer Renalyn Tejero was, with 32 others in the Caraga region, red-tagged in November 2020 by a group calling itself the Movement Against Terrorism. Authorities arrested Tejero on March 21 on charges of murder and attempted murder. Activist groups stressed Tejero was targeted for trumped up charges due to her affiliation with the Karapatan organization, an NGO focused on human rights defense.
In July the Supreme Court barred the Manila and Quezon City courts from authorizing search warrants in other localities following complaints by several human rights groups of abuse, mass arrests, and killings of activists. These groups called these warrants “death warrants” and asserted they resulted in the nine deaths in the March 7 “Bloody Sunday” killings.
The CHR investigated 40 alleged illegal detention cases involving 62 victims from January to August, of which 33 were perpetrated by the PNP, one by the AFP, three by local government officials, and three by unidentified persons.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem due largely to the slow and ineffectual justice system. Approximately 98 percent of prisoners in BJMP 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 39,112 inmates from BJMP jails from January to July. Nonetheless, pretrial detention more than 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. In July the Integrated Bar of the Philippines condemned attacks on lawyers in the Duterte administration. Six lawyers were killed in the year to July; there have been few indictments for these killings.
Media reported a March request by the Calbayog City, Samar Province, police that the Calbayog Regional Trial Court provide it with a list of lawyers representing persons affiliated with the communist party. The request raised concerns among human rights groups such as the National Union of People’s Lawyers that, if granted, it would facilitate attacks on human rights lawyers.
Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and 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 2020, approximately one-third of authorized bench positions (563 positions) were unfilled. Sharia 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 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 for free 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 the 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 146 political prisoners as of August. This included persons in maximum-, medium-, and minimum-security prisons and self-identified political prisoners in Davao, which alone held most political prisoners. 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 Task Force Detainees of the Philippines tracked what it defined, based on motivation but excluding persons guilty of or charged with crimes against persons or property, as political prisoners and detainees, most of whom were in pretrial detention. From January to July, the task force recorded 76 political prisoners and 294 political detainees. The task force noted that in most 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.
Four years after her arrest, opposition senator Leila de Lima remained in police detention on a charge of conspiracy to commit drug trading. Prosecutors used a variety of legal tactics to delay arraignment, including filing new and amending previous charges. In August, one of her accusers, a convicted drug lord named Vicente Sy, died in prison, reportedly of COVID-19. De Lima’s camp noted, however, that when Sy testified in court in 2020 he recanted his earlier testimony, saying he never met or gave money to de Lima. The prosecution subsequently filed charges against de Lima for contempt of court after she made statements about the case in public. In July 2020 officials reported that de Lima accuser Jaybee Sebastian, a prison gang leader, died of COVID-19. De Lima’s case began in 2016 after she opened Senate hearings into killings related to the drug war. Although detained, de Lima had access to media and some visitors before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. 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.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
For decades the country has contended with armed Muslim separatist movements represented by groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front; a communist insurgency supported by a nationwide NPA presence; and violence by smaller transnational terrorist organizations, such as ISIS-East Asia, the Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (hereafter Bangsamoro Front), and other terrorist groups and criminal syndicates. Additionally, interclan rido (feuds) violence continued in Mindanao, causing civilian deaths and displacement. Government agencies, often with support from UN agencies and other international donors, assisted those displaced by internal conflict (see section 2.e.). The AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict reported that 166 international humanitarian law violations by communist terrorist groups were endorsed to the AO35 committee for further investigation from January to June.
Killings: Armed clashes between government and insurgent, separatist, and terrorist forces frequently led to deaths on both sides. For example on August 20, security forces clashed with members of the NPA. Two rebels and one soldier died. One of the rebels killed was Kerima Tariman, a poet, activist, and former managing editor of the official student publication of the University of the Philippines. In another case on August 26, NPA rebels killed two unarmed Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary members in San Isidro, Northern Samar. The two were on their way to a military Community Support Program activity conducting development social work for villagers.
NGOs sometimes linked the killing of activists to counterinsurgency operations by government security forces, particularly the military (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples). The NGO Front Line Defenders documented 25 killings of human rights defenders in 2020, of whom 21 were environmental, land, and indigenous peoples’ rights activists.
The NPA, ISIS-East Asia, Abu Sayaf Group, Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa, Bangsamoro Front, and other violent extremist groups used roadside bombs, ambushes, suicide bombings, and other means to kill political figures and other civilians, including persons suspected of being military and police informers. On September 18, alleged Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters terrorists wounded eight persons when an improvised bomb exploded in a town plaza in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. Datu Piang mayor Victor Samama told the press he was convinced the bombing was perpetrated by the same Bangsamoro Front members who stormed the town in December 2020 and burned a police car while firing at the police station.
Abductions: Armed criminal and terrorist groups kidnapped civilians for ransom. The NPA and some separatist groups were also responsible for kidnappings. Authorities reportedly facilitated ransom payments on behalf of victims’ families and employers through unofficial channels. The security forces at times attempted to rescue victims. From January to August, the AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict recorded three cases of hostages by terrorist organizations involving four civilians, with two of the cases filed at the courts. Three Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped by the Abu Sayaf Group on the border with Malaysia and taken to Sulu Province. The PNP rescued the victims and arrested one of the captors when their boat capsized as they were fleeing a government rescue operation.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Leftist and human rights activists reported abuse of detained insurgents, separatists, and terrorists by police and prison officials. In March the Communist Party of the Philippines accused state forces of torturing and killing former NPA leader Antonio Cabanatan and his wife Florenda Yap, who were abducted in Oton town, Iloilo Province, in December 2020, the 52nd anniversary of the NPA’s founding. Cabanatan, along with Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, were the two remaining names on a Department of Justice list of 600 individuals it intended to designate as terrorists, but which was eventually trimmed down to the two. Activists Randy Malayao, Randy Echanis, and Zara Alvarez, all on the original list of 600, were killed in 2019-20.
Multiple sources reported the NPA sought to intimidate government officials and attacked or threatened businesses, power stations, farms, and private communication facilities to enforce collection of extortion payments, or so-called revolutionary taxes.
Child Soldiers: The use of child soldiers, particularly by terrorist and antigovernment organizations, remained a problem, especially in some parts of Mindanao affected by low-level violence. In the year to July, the national police’s Women and Children Protection Center rescued seven child soldiers from armed antigovernment groups. The AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict recorded 10 children used as soldiers by communist terrorist groups from January to June. There was no evidence of use or recruitment of child soldiers by government units. During the year the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict verified the recruitment and use of 12 children by armed groups, including Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Front, and the NPA. UNICEF monitored the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts and the release of child soldiers. Government reporting mechanisms on child soldiers provided inconsistent data across agencies and regions, especially in conflict-affected areas, which made it difficult to evaluate the problem’s scale. The NPA continued to claim it did not recruit children as combatants but admitted that it recruited, trained, and used them for noncombat purposes, such as cooking.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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 may also result in a lifetime ban from political office. The law applies to both men and women. 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 significant fines.
Difficulty in obtaining rape convictions impeded effective enforcement on rape cases. 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 national police. As of August the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center recorded 4,424 cases of rape during the year, a slight increase from the number recorded during the same period of 2020, involving female and child victims. Of these, 2,202 were referred to prosecutors, 952 were filed in court, 1,252 remained under investigation, and 74 were referred to another agency. As of July the Bureau of Corrections had 7,958 inmates convicted of rape.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. According to the national police, reported acts of domestic violence against women decreased from 7,093 in January to July 2020 versus 5,282 for the same period during the year. Local and international organizations observed an alarming rise of cases of abuse against women and children during the community quarantine.
NGOs reported that cultural and social stigma deterred many women from reporting rape or domestic violence. NGOs and media reported that rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. In August a new police officer and a local official were accused of sexually molesting and raping a 19-year-old female quarantine violator who was accosted at a quarantine control point in Mariveles, Bataan Province. The woman was taken to the police officer’s boarding house and reportedly raped.
The PNP and the Social Welfare Department both maintained help desks to assist survivors of violence against women and to encourage reporting. The national police’s Women and Children Protection Center also operated a national hotline for reports of violence against women and children. In addition the social welfare department 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 department reported it had assisted 41 women and girls who were specifically victims of sexual abuse, of whom 27 were raped. With the assistance of NGOs, the CHR, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers received gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The national police maintained a women and children’s unit in approximately 1,784 police stations throughout the country with 1,905 help desks to deal with abuse cases. The PNP assigned 4,882 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 moderate fine, or both. Sexual harassment remained widespread and underreported, including in the workplace, due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs.
Relevant law is intended to prevent and punish acts of sexual harassment in public places, online workplaces, and educational institutions. Despite the president’s support for a law preventing sexual harassment, local organizations observed that on multiple occasions Duterte’s rhetoric promoted violence against women.
In a July 17 Facebook post and official statement, the Center for Women’s Resources group criticized an official at the Department of Interior and Local Government’s Emergency Operations Command for allegedly harassing and mistreating women related to victims of the government’s drug war during a July 16 protest at the department. The center urged the department and other concerned government agencies to act against the official for violating the Safe Spaces Act.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Although the law requires that women in non-life-threatening situations secure spousal consent to obtain reproductive health care, the Supreme Court has ruled that the constitution upholds the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Although the law provides for universal access to methods of contraception, sexual education, and maternal care, it also allows health practitioners to deny reproductive health services based on their personal or religious beliefs in nonemergency situations; requires spousal consent for women in non-life-threatening situations to obtain reproductive health care; requires minors in non-life-threatening situations to get parental consent before obtaining reproductive health care; and does not require private health-care facilities to provide access to family-planning methods.
Provision of health-care services is the responsibility of local governments, and disruptions in the supply chain, including procurement, allocation, and distribution of contraceptives, reduced their availability to the poor, although modern forms of contraception were available on the market in most areas.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence and protection for rape victims, including emergency contraception.
According to the 2020 UN Human Development Report, the maternal mortality ratio was 121 per 100,000 live births, and skilled attendants participated in 84 percent of births. The Philippine Commission on Population and Development attributed the increase in maternal deaths to mothers not getting optimal care in hospitals and other birthing facilities during the pandemic. The UN Population Fund reported, based on its 2016 analysis of maternal death review, that poverty, remote locations, and a lack of education exacerbated delays in seeking potentially life-saving maternal medical care; that midwives at times had little formal training; and that medical personnel routinely mistreated and denied proper care to women who sought assistance for complications from unsafe abortions.
The World Bank reported in 2019 that the adolescent birth rate was 55 per 1,000 for women between ages 15 and 19. A June 25 executive order implementing measures to address the rise in adolescent pregnancy noted, “girls already living in dysfunctional homes spend more time with their households as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are thereby more exposed to abuse.” International media and women’s health NGOs cited limited access to adequate sex education and contraceptives as a driving factor of adolescent births. Experts estimated the pandemic lockdowns will cause more than five million women in the country to lose access to reproductive health care. The University of the Philippines and the UN Population Fund warned of a “baby boom” resulting from this loss of access to health care.
In 2019 the UN Population Fund stated that reaching displaced pregnant women to provide critical health services in conflict and crisis-affected areas, particularly Mindanao, was a challenge.
Discrimination: In law although 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.
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, were 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 was common but brought with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law provides for the protection of every Filipino and prohibits discrimination of individuals based on ethnicity, race, and religion or belief; however, the government stated in its July report to the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination that there is no formal, legal definition of racial discrimination in the country, resulting in little to no reporting of such cases.
Although no laws discriminate against indigenous peoples, cultural bias and the geographical remoteness of the areas many inhabit prevented their full integration into society. Indigenous children often suffered from lack of health care, education, and other basic services. The law requires that indigenous peoples be represented in policy-making bodies and local legislative councils, but the rate of compliance with the law was unknown. Indigenous leaders observed that the selection process for mandatory indigenous representatives was frequently ignored or rejected by local governments and politicians.
Lumad (a group of indigenous ethnic communities in Mindanao) schools and students were subject to red-tagging, often resulting in raids by the security forces, illegal arrests, and forced closure of community schools. In February police raided the University of San Carlos’s Talamaban campus in Cebu City, calling the raid a rescue operation, and arrested 26 Lumad students and teachers. The university had provided refuge to the students after they were evacuated from their residences due to armed conflict.
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. Indigenous rights activist groups criticized the indigenous peoples’ commission, noting that it approved projects on ancestral lands without the free, prior, and informed consent required by law.
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 June an unarmed group of six members of the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur, including a 12-year-old girl, were fired on by soldiers, allegedly without any provocation or warning. Three of the group – a man, woman, and 12-year-old girl – died. The military claimed they were pursuing the group, which it asserted were members of the NPA, when they opened fire on the soldiers, precipitating a 10-minute firefight.
On December 31, 2020, nine leaders of the Tumandok community on Panay Island were killed in an operation by security forces. The Tumandok leaders had led a campaign to oppose the construction of the nearby Jalaur Dam because of its impact on the community’s ancestral lands. On December 11, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict had red-tagged those killed, along with 18 other Tumandok persons who were arrested as alleged members of the NPA.
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 lack of a birth certificate does not generally result in 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. In-person school has remained closed for two academic years due to COVID-19. Most students, however, had access to education, either in virtual form, through curricular modules delivered to students, or by other means.
Supplemental costs for supplies or uniforms can be a barrier to students from poor families. The Department of Education continued to prioritize 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. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, the primary school enrollment rate for girls was equal to the rate for boys, while the rate for girls was significantly higher than the rate for boys in secondary and tertiary schools. Although boys and girls participated in education at equal rates, in an April statement the Civil Society for Education Reforms Network noted that gender sensitive curricula and learning materials remained the exception in schools. The network also stated that gender insensitivity among staff and students contributed to school violence.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. In October the Department of Justice decided to pursue sexual abuse charges against a foreign national after the 16-year-old victim dropped out of the case as complainant. As of November, the foreign national was undergoing deportation proceedings and was detained at the Bureau of Immigration because he could not post bail. He allegedly met the victim online, supplied her with drugs, had sex with her, and recorded the victim having sex with another man. Through the second quarter of the year, the social welfare department served 1,550 children in centers and residential care facilities nationwide, a small fraction of those in need. Several cities ran crisis centers for abused women and children.
Child, 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 (no age is specified). The law was generally followed and enforced, but there are no legal penalties for forced and child marriage. While recent data were unavailable, observers believed forced and early marriage remained a problem. For example, records from sharia district courts showed some Muslim girls were married as young as age seven. Advocacy groups pushed for specific legislation banning child and forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits 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 younger than 12 and sex with a child younger than 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 significant fines, depending on the gravity of the offense. Several human rights groups pushed for an increase in the age of consent (12 as of year’s end), one of the lowest in the world. The government made efforts to address these crimes and collaborated with foreign law enforcement authorities, NGOs, and international organizations.
Inadequate prosecutorial resources and capacity to analyze computer evidence were among the challenges to effective enforcement. Despite the penalties and enforcement efforts, law enforcement agencies and NGOs agreed that criminals and family members continued to use minors in the production of pornography and in cybersex activities.
Children continued to be victims of sex trafficking, and the country remained a destination for foreign and domestic child sex tourists. Additionally live internet broadcasts of young girls, boys, and sibling groups performing sex acts for paying foreigners continued. Children’s vulnerability to online sexual exploitation increased during the pandemic as children were forced to stay home and families’ incomes often fell. The government continued to prosecute accused pedophiles, deport those who were foreigners, and bar the entry of identified convicted sex offenders. To reduce retraumatizing child victims and to 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. From January to August, the PNP and its partners, through the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, rescued 131 children, arrested 16 perpetrators, and conducted 49 online child sexual exploitation operations.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP worked closely with the Department of Labor to target and close establishments suspected of sex trafficking of minors. From January to July, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Working Conditions recorded four establishments that employed 24 minors; after being given an opportunity to correct the problem, the establishments complied with the standards and so were not closed.
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 social welfare department, 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 .
An estimated 2,000 persons of Jewish heritage, almost all foreign nationals, lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
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 government agency rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance activities to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream of society. From January to July, the council registered 12 complaints and allegations of abuse and discrimination: three allegations of workplace discrimination; four of ridicule and vilification on social media; two of violations of data privacy; and others of alleged physical abuse and intimidation. The complaints were referred to the appropriate agencies for investigation and provision of necessary assistance.
The law was not effectively enforced, and many barriers remained for persons with disabilities. Disability advocates 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 physical 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 special education programs 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 social welfare department provided services to 1,512 persons with disabilities in assisted living centers and community-based vocational centers nationwide, a small fraction of the population in need. If a person with disabilities experienced violence, access to after-care services might be available through the social welfare department, crisis centers, and NGOs. Sixty percent of local government units had a persons with disabilities 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 and intellectual disabilities to vote during the registration process, and citizens may appeal exclusions (and inclusions) in court. The law requires the establishment of accessible voting centers exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, including in access to basic health and social services. Nevertheless, there was evidence of discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in the government’s provision of health care, housing, employment, and insurance services. Men who have sex with men were banned indefinitely from donating blood.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
National laws neither criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults nor prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Outright International, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) NGO, estimated 29 cities, provinces, barangays, and municipalities had enacted a version of an antidiscrimination ordinance that protects LGBTQI+ 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, such as instances of transgender individuals being denied boarding on aircraft.
NGOs reported incidents of discrimination and abuse against LGBTQI+ persons, including in employment, education, health care, housing, and social services. On May 18, three men allegedly killed transgender man Ebeng Mayor after raping and physically abusing her. The three reportedly knew Mayor and spent the evening at a bar with her. The alleged killers were arrested on May 22 and faced rape and murder charges. In June a Cotabato City local radio station reported through a social media post, which was later deleted, that residents of Ampatuan town in the BARMM forcibly shaved the heads of neighbors said to be members of the LGBTQI+ community. The alleged perpetrators justified the deed, claiming that “being gay or lesbian is against Islam.” Mindanao LGBTQI+ groups and human rights groups condemned the action, declaring that religion does not justify bigotry.