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: A number of UN special rapporteur or working group visit requests remained pending. In February the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the opening 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 speech, President Duterte ordered security forces not to respond to any probe or investigation requests on human rights abuses in the country. In March the country submitted a formal notification of withdrawal from the ICC’s Rome Statute, which will take effect one year after the notification.
In March a list of hundreds of individuals allegedly associated with the communist insurgency was included in a Department of Justice court filing seeking judicial affirmation of the government’s designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines/NPA as a terrorist organization. The list included UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (a Filipina) and some other individuals identified by international NGOs as human rights defenders. In August a Manila regional trial court removed Tauli-Corpuz and three others from the list.
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. Nevertheless, the CHR lacked sufficient funding and staff 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. Many human rights NGOs believed this office’s casework improved under the Ombudsman whose term ended in July, although administrative and institutional weaknesses remained. Samuel Martires, the new Ombudsman, began his nonrenewable seven-year term in July.
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 Regional Human Rights Commission is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with monitoring alleged human rights violations in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (Bangsamoro). The commission’s effectiveness remained unclear.