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 2019 for 12 (of 24 total) senators, all congressional representatives, and local government leaders were seen as generally free and fair, despite some reports of violence and vote buying. The ruling party and allies won all 12 Senate seats and maintained an approximately two-thirds majority in the 306-seat House of Representatives.
The Philippine National Police 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 (armed forces), which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions where the government assesses a high incidence of terrorist or separatist insurgent activity, particularly the Mindanao region. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The national police Special Action Force is responsible for urban counterterrorism operations. Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including appointment of top provincial and municipal police officers and the provision of resources. The government continued to support and arm civilian militias. The armed forces controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units, while Civilian Volunteer Organizations fell under national police 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 Civilian Volunteer Organization and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit members into those armies. Civilian control over some security forces was not fully effective. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: 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; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by terrorists and groups in rebellion against the government; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the use of criminal libel laws to punish journalists; high-level and widespread government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; and threats and violence against labor activists.
The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitary forces, 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 other 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. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. 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. These actions were at times investigated and prosecuted, although there were credible allegations that charges were often leveled for political reasons.
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.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
An estimated 2,000 persons of Jewish heritage, almost all foreign nationals, lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law aims to provide affordable and accessible mental health services and provide for equal access for persons with disabilities to all public buildings and establishments.
The National Council for Disability Affairs formulated policies and coordinated 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.
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.
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.