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Philippines

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

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

There were numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by antigovernment insurgents and unknown assailants also continued.

From July 2016 to July 2018, law enforcement agencies reported that an average of six persons died daily in antidrug operations. The 105,658 antidrug operations conducted from July 2016 to September 2018 led to the deaths of 4,854 civilians and 87 members of the security forces. Government data on the antidrug campaign were provided through #RealNumbersPH, operated by the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs. In an illustrative case, an unknown gunman shot and killed Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili during a flag ceremony at city hall on July 2. Mayor Halili was on the president’s “narco list” and known for his “Walk of Shame” parade for drug suspects. Three other mayors and two vice-mayors were killed in similar incidents.

The reported number of alleged extrajudicial killings varied widely, since government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency responsible for investigating alleged human rights violations, investigated 301 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 387 victims as of August, including 70 cases of drug-related extrajudicial killings involving 90 victims. The CHR suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) involvement in 208 of these new complaints and the armed forces (AFP) or paramilitary personnel in 19 cases. The CHR attributed the higher number of investigations of extrajudicial killings to an increase in investigations initiated on its own authority based on monitoring news reports, reports to the CHR in social media, or information received following CHR outreach efforts.

The PNP’s Task Force Usig, responsible for investigating and monitoring killings of members of the press, labor activists, and foreigners, opened no new cases from January to July.

The NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), which documented cases of alleged state perpetrated, politically motivated killings carried out by unspecified security forces, was unable to provide data for the reporting year. The TFDP covered such cases separately from killings in the antidrug campaign.

President Duterte continued his anticrime campaign, specifically targeting the widespread trafficking and abuse of illegal narcotics. Fatalities fell dramatically following the PNP’s suspension of the counternarcotics campaign in accordance with a presidential memorandum in October 2017. The president reversed the suspension in December 2017 and reported extrajudicial killings increased, but to a lower level than prior to the suspension. On July 23, in his State of the Nation Address, the president reiterated that the drug war was “far from over” and would continue to be “relentless and chilling.” In specific cases President Duterte commented that if police were found to be corrupt, they should go to jail, or that he would deploy a “special unit” of officers to hunt and kill them.

Civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings. The CHR reported that the PNP refused to share information on investigations into police and vigilante killings, as required by the constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that the PNP must turn over documents. The PNP indicated in May that it had turned over 95 percent of the required records to the solicitor general, although it was not clear whether these records were subsequently turned over to the Supreme Court.

President Duterte continued to maintain lists of suspected drug criminals, including government, police, military officials, and members of the judiciary. Many viewed the list as an implied threat. The list now includes 96 politicians. PDEA Chief Aaron Aquino reported in July that the president would no longer publicly announce the names on the list because of “complications” that followed doing so.

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. According to the CHR, however, members of the security forces and police allegedly routinely abused and sometimes tortured suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

As of August the CHR had investigated 30 cases of alleged torture involving 36 victims; it suspected police involvement in eight of the cases. In March, several farmers and miners from the Compostela Valley in Mindanao filed a complaint with the CHR alleging that AFP soldiers beat and burned them in November 2017 because the soldiers suspected the miners and farmers were members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

There were no convictions specifically for torture during the year, but a few cases continued under the antitorture law.

According to NGOs and press reports, mental abuse, including shaming–illegal under the Anti-Torture Act–reportedly occurred, especially in drug cases. In July local media reported on strip searches of drug suspects, including women, conducted in March by Makati City police officers. Videos of the incident showed police officers laughing during the searches, including that of a naked woman.

As part of the antidrug campaign, authorities called on drug criminals to turn themselves in to police to avoid more severe consequences. As of June the PNP reported 1,274,148 surrenders facilitated since July 2016, although civil society actors questioned the official figures. Civil society and other observers claimed a climate of fear led many persons associated with drugs to surrender.

Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. The Center for Women’s Resources reported eight cases of rape involving 16 police officers from January 2017 to July 2018. The Center noted that many of the rapes occurred in connection with police antidrug operations.

The United Nations reported receiving one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Filipino peacekeeper deployed to the UN Mission in Liberia. The case, which alleged the rape of a minor, was reported in 2017. An investigation by both the United Nations and the Philippine government was pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were often harsh and potentially life threatening and, in most cases, included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, physical abuse, and constant lack of resources including medical care and food.

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

The juvenile justice law exempts minors from criminal liability. Drug syndicates often used minors as runners, traffickers, cultivators, or drug den employees. Rescued minors are turned over to the custody of Department of Social Welfare and Development. In accordance with the juvenile justice law, police stations had youth relations officers to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the Social Welfare Department provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. From January to June, the department assisted 1,650 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 16 rehabilitation centers nationwide. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

Physical Conditions: The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), under the Department of Justice, administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. BuCor facilities operated at more than 2.5 times the official capacity of 16,010, holding 43,978 prisoners. The capacity remained the same as in 2017, but the number of prisoners grew by 2,000.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP, controlled 926 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The BJMP reported its jails operated at an average of more than four times their designated capacity; the CHR reported BJMP jails were at 612 percent of capacity. Overcrowding led to a staff-to-detainee ratio of approximately 1:74. The Navotas City Jail, in one of the poorest areas in Metro Manila, had an official capacity of 23 inmates, yet as of July held 937 prisoners. Several NGOs observed that overcrowding was more severe in smaller cities, a condition that reportedly triggered violence among inmates and promoted gang rivalries.

The CHR confirmed that overcrowding had worsened because of the antidrug campaign, and that this was compounded by the June order to arrest loiterers (see “Arbitrary Arrest or Detention” below). According to Manila Police District statistics, 55 inmates died due to overcrowding in detention facilities between July 2016 and June 2018.

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

Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce BJMP and BuCor regulations that require holding male and female inmates in separate facilities, and, in national prisons, overseeing them with guards of the same sex. In some facilities, authorities did not fully segregate juveniles from adults. BJMP and BuCor reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with about 70 prisoners assigned to each custodial staff member. In larger prisons, for example, such as the New Bilibid Prison, one prison guard oversaw 100 to 150 prisoners.

Reports indicated that poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, BuCor and the BJMP reported 766 inmate deaths, a death rate of 0.42 percent. Prison authorities report that most deaths were the result of illness. Authorities provided BuCor inmates with medical care; however, some medical services and treatments were not available. In such cases, authorities referred inmates to an outside hospital. Inmates received a medicine allowance of 10 Philippine pesos ($0.19) per day. For example, congestion at the Manila Police District 9, Binan Police Station Custodial Facility, a BJMP Facility in San Pedro City, led some detainees to suffer from an apparently bacterial infection that, in one case, led to death.

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

Administration: The BJMP helped expedite court cases to promote speedy disposition of inmates’ cases. Through this program, authorities released 53,751 inmates from BJMP jails from January to July.

Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the CHR referred complaints it received to the appropriate agency.

Authorities generally allowed prisoners and detainees to receive visitors, but local NGOs reported that authorities periodically restricted family visits for some detainees accused of insurgency-related crimes. Prison officials noted that security concerns and space limitations at times also restricted prisoner access to visitors.

Muslim officials reported that, while Muslim detainees were allowed to observe their religion, Roman Catholic mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to prison populations of both Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic prisoners and detainees. BuCor has a rehabilitation program that focuses on inmates’ moral and spiritual concerns.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted international monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, free and timely access to jails and prisons. The constitution grants the CHR authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations. The CHR reported some detention facilities still lacked an understanding of the CHR’s mandate and continued to deny CHR representatives access to detention facilities. For example, the Caloocan Yakap Center, a youth detention home in Metro Manila, required a CHR team to ask the head of the facility for permission to monitor compliance by submitting a letter prior to the visit.

Improvements: To reduce overcrowding, the government began to encourage plea bargaining in drug offense cases.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and sometimes bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders. Insufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays also hindered the judicial system. These factors contributed to widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system delivered due process and equal justice.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was removed from office in June due to her alleged failure to submit all wealth declaration documents when she applied for the position in 2012. Human rights groups alleged Sereno’s vocal opposition to the conduct of the drug war played a significant role in the decision.

Trials took place as a series of separate hearings, often months apart, as witnesses and court time became available, contributing to lengthy delays. There was a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. As of June 30, approximately one-third of authorized prosecutor positions (1,060 positions) were unfilled. Sharia (Islamic law) court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because of the requirement that applicants be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. Sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Although the Prosecutor General received authority to hire hundreds of new prosecutors for sharia courts, training for them was of short duration and considered inadequate.

The Supreme Court continued efforts to provide speedier trials, reduce judicial malfeasance, increase judicial branch efficiency, and raise public confidence in the judiciary. It continued to implement guidelines to accelerate resolution of cases in which the maximum penalty would not exceed six years in prison. In 2016 the judiciary instituted new court rules and procedures for case processing that limited the postponement of hearings and made other procedural changes to expedite case processing. Implementation of the most significant part of the reform, e‑Courts and the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases in Pilot Courts, began in 2017.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Although the law provides that cases should be resolved within three months to two years, depending on the court, trials effectively had no time limits. Government officials estimated it took an average of five to six years to obtain a decision. In September a court convicted retired general Jovito Palparan and two subordinates of kidnapping and illegal detention after a four-year-long trial. The incident, in 2006, involved the disappearance of two university students. Palparan, who was allegedly also deeply involved in extrajudicial killings and torture, was sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction was a positive example of the courts’ ability to hold security force leaders accountable for their actions.

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Under a 1945 law, the government defines political prisoners as those who may be accused of any crime against national security. Using this definition, BuCor reported 185 political prisoners in its facilities as of August. The BJMP does not track political prisoners and defines prisoners based only on security risk.

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

Two years after her arrest, during which prosecutors used a variety of legal tactics to delay arraignment, including filing new and amending previous charges, Senator Leila de Lima was arraigned in August on a charge of conspiracy to commit drug trading. An arraignment scheduled for May was postponed when prosecutors sought another opportunity to revise the charges. The opening of the trial in September was postponed when a prosecution witness recanted his testimony. De Lima’s case began in 2016 after she opened hearings into killings related to the antidrug campaign. Although in detention, de Lima had access to the media and some visitors. Her case attracted widespread domestic and international attention, with many observers denouncing the charges as politically motivated.

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

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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