Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 can 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.
Authorities generally took reports of rape seriously. 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. Likewise, difficulty in obtaining rape convictions remained a challenge to effective enforcement. As of August the national police’s Women and Children Protection Center recorded 4,207 cases of rape during the year, four times the number recorded during the same period of 2019, involving female and child victims. Of these, 1,735 were referred to prosecutors, and 1,885 were filed in court. The rest were either dropped, settled out of court, or dismissed. The national police filed and investigated 2,464 rape cases during the COVID-19 community quarantine period from March 15 to July 31, a significant decrease in reported cases from the same period last year.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. According to the national police, reported acts of domestic violence against women decreased from 10,976 in January to July 2019 versus 6,512 for the same period during the year. Of the total, 3,745 were filed during the community quarantine period from March 15 to July 31. Local and international organizations observed 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 reported that rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued.
The national police 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 196 women and girls who were specifically victims of rape. With the assistance of NGOs, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers continued to receive 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 1,800 police stations throughout the country with 2,167 help desks to deal with abuse cases. The national police assigned 5,482 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.
The July 2019 Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act is intended to prevent and punish acts of sexual harassment in public places, online workplaces, and educational institutions. Despite the president’s support for it, local organizations observed that on multiple occasions his rhetoric in fact promoted violence against women. In a March report by the Center for Women’s Resources, the organization recorded at least 30 misogynistic remarks made by President Duterte, which the center described as encouraging violence against women.
Reproductive Rights: 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.
The law provides for universal access to methods of contraception, sexual education, and maternal care. The law, however, also allows health practitioners to deny reproductive health services based on 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. Many NGOs, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, asserted that these restrictions prevented the full implementation of the law. The law includes provisions on the “prevention of abortion and management of postabortion complications.” It stipulates that the government is responsible for providing postabortion care “in a humane, nonjudgmental and compassionate manner.”
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.
In May the NGO RTI International reported that two weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown of the Luzon group of islands, home to approximately half the country’s population, the government’s Commission on Population and Development issued guidance calling for cooperation among health facilities, local government units, and community volunteers to continue provision of family-planning and reproductive-health services and commodities because of the pandemic.
The government provided access to health services for survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence and protection for rape victims, operated rape crisis centers in every city and province, and appropriated support funds. The Department of Social Welfare and Development provided services to survivors of violence against women and children.
According to the 2020 UN Human Development Report, the maternal mortality ratio was 121 per 100,000 live births, and skilled attendants participated in 84.4 percent of births. In 2015 the UN Development Program attributed the high rate of maternal deaths to inadequate access to integrated reproductive health services. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported 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.
In August preliminary findings by the Population Institute of the University of the Philippines and the UNFPA suggested that global disruptions to maternal and newborn health services caused by the pandemic might indirectly result in additional in-country maternal deaths and that the overwhelmed national and local health systems may already have diverted resources for women’s health to combat COVID-19.
According to a survey by the Commission on Population and Development in the last quarter of the year, 59 percent of adults thought the most important problem facing women was early teenage pregnancy, followed by physical violence and unexpected pregnancy. The World Bank reported the 2019 adolescent birth rate was 55 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. These problems were exacerbated by COVID-19 community lockdowns.
In conflict areas such as the Mindanao region, the government provided gender-responsive conflict management.
UNFPA in 2019 stated that it remained a challenge to reach displaced pregnant women in conflict and crisis-affected areas, particularly Mindanao, to provide critical health-related services.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: In law but 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, are 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 is common but brings with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.
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. Updated estimates from the Philippine Statistics Authority on the number of unregistered children younger than age 14 were unavailable; however, NGOs continued to lobby Congress to make birth registration for children free. The lack of a birth certificate does not generally result in a 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. Supplemental costs, for supplies or uniforms, can in some cases 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 Bangsamoro, the region with the lowest rate of school attendance. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 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.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. Through the second quarter of the year, the social welfare department served only 1,619 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.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the 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.
While authorities endeavored to enforce the law, inadequate prosecutorial resources and capacity to analyze computer evidence were challenges to effective enforcement. The government made serious efforts to address these crimes and collaborated with foreign law enforcement, NGOs, and international organizations.
Despite the penalties, law enforcement agencies and NGOs reported 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, the live internet broadcast of young girls, boys, and sibling groups performing sex acts for paying foreigners continued. The government continued to prosecute accused pedophiles and deport those who were foreigners and to stop the entry of identified convicted sex offenders. To reduce retraumatization of child victims and 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.
In June the national police arrested a woman for the online sex trafficking of her adult deaf sister and six children ages two to 15, including the woman’s son and two nieces. Police rescued the victims from the trafficker and provided them with trauma therapy and shelter placement. In September a woman pled guilty to attempted trafficking. In a sting police caught the woman exploiting her two sisters and six-year-old daughter. The government used plea bargains and technology-based child-protective measures to prevent retraumatization.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP worked closely with the Labor Department to target and close facilities suspected of sex trafficking of minors. Since the start of the COVID-19 community quarantine period from March to May, the Department of Justice’s Office of Cybercrime reported 279,166 cases of online sexual exploitation of children, a 265 percent increase from the same period in 2019.
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 annual 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 the activities of government agencies for the rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance of persons with disabilities and their integration into the mainstream of society.
The law was not effectively enforced, and many barriers remained for persons with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities 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 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 separate special education centers 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 1,306 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 suffered violence, access to after-care services might be available through the social welfare department, crisis centers, and NGOs. Of local government units, 60 percent had a persons with disability 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 disabilities to vote during the registration process, and citizens may appeal exclusions (and inclusions) in court. A federal act authorizes the commission to establish accessible voting centers exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.
Although no specific laws discriminate against indigenous people, the geographical remoteness of the areas many inhabit and cultural bias prevented their full integration into society. Indigenous children often suffered from lack of health care, education, and other basic services. Government officials indicated approximately 80 percent of the country’s government units complied with the longstanding legal requirement that indigenous peoples be represented in policy-making bodies and local legislative councils.
Fifty-five schools for Lumad children that the Department of Education closed in 2019 for alleged deviations from the basic curriculum remained closed as of August. In that same period, the government closed 176 of the 216 tribal schools in the southern part of the country in what the Save Our Schools Network, a group of children’s rights NGOs, called “continuing attacks on tribal schools.”
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.
National laws neither criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults nor prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Eighteen cities, six provinces, three barangays, and one municipality had enacted a version of an antidiscrimination ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–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 LGBTI persons, including in employment, education, health care, housing, and social services. In June, Manila police arrested 20 Pride protesters for violating health safety protocols during the nationwide community quarantine. Some of those arrested reported they experienced discrimination while in detention.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, including in access to basic health and social services. Nevertheless, there was anecdotal evidence of discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in the government’s provision of health care, housing, employment, and insurance services.