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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Philippines

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Philippines, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa310.html [accessed 16 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

The Philippines is a democratic republic with an elected president, a fully functioning political party system, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary. Political corruption remains endemic, however, particularly in the electoral and judicial systems. The Government achieved significant gains in peace talks with insurgent groups.

The Department of National Defense controls the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Department of Interior and Local Government supervises the civilian Philippine National Police (PNP). The two forces share responsibility for fighting a declining Communist insurgency, terrorists, and Muslim separatists. Military forces, including local civilian militias and the police, committed human rights abuses.

The Government is implementing a far-reaching reform program, "Philippines 2000," to convert its agrarian-based, paternalistic economy into an industrial, market-driven one. Although "nationalist" blocs and vested interests continue to pose obstacles, the Government has succeeded in liberalizing the investment, trade, and foreign exchange regimes. This program has opened formerly restricted sectors, which had included banking, insurance, aviation, telecommunications, and oil; "reprivatized" state-controlled firms; and addressed infrastructure complaints. Long-term fiscal stability is a major concern. The Government has proposed for Congressional approval a comprehensive tax reform program. Exports and investment spurred a 5.5 percent real gross national product expansion in 1995 and 7.1 percent in 1996. Garments and electronics make up more than half of merchandise export receipts and are significantly complemented by overseas worker remittances. While the Government has accelerated market reforms, poverty and inequitable income distribution remain. More than 40 percent of the population of 70 million are unable to meet basic nutritional and other needs, while the richest 10 percent of families receive 36 percent of aggregate personal income. Annual per capita national income is estimated at $1,184.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. A general decline in the number of abuses was partially offset by encounters between government and insurgent forces in Mindanao that resulted in an increase in the number of civilian casualties. Members of the security forces were responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. According to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency, the police continued to be the leading abusers of human rights. Some abuses were committed by personnel of the police and military forces involved in illegal activities such as coerced protection, political gangsterism, kidnap-for-ransom syndicates, and assistance to illegal loggers. The authorities rationalized other abuses as necessary shortcuts to fighting crime in a criminal justice system that is slow, cumbersome, and disposed to freeing criminals or treating them leniently. There continued to be increased public concern for due process and equal justice, however, as personal ties undermined the commitment of some government institutions to ensuring fairness and justice.

The courts remained hobbled by backlogs, limited resources, and venality. Long delays in trials are common, and prison conditions remained poor. An estimated 4 million citizens living abroad remained disenfranchised because Congress has not yet enacted absentee voting, as required by the Constitution. Violence and discrimination against women and abuse of children continued to be serious problems. Discrimination against indigenous people and Muslims persists. Child labor is a problem. The Government often relies on the more than 5,000 local nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) to help change public attitudes and pressure local authorities to address abuses.

Communist and Muslim insurgent groups also committed human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, kidnapings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and the use of summary justice in informal courts.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The CHR reported 64 incidents of extrajudicial killing during the first quarter. It reported 172 such killings for all of 1995. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a prominent NGO, reported 14 people killed extrajudicially in the first 6 months of 1996, compared with 38 in 1995. The numbers given by the CHR are greater, in part because the CHR includes violations by both government and insurgent groups, including the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army (CPP/NPA), while the TFDP lists only offenses attributed to government authorities. In addition, the TFDP's ability to gather human rights violation statistics was adversely affected in 1995 (and to a lesser extent in 1996) by an internal organizational dispute that limited reporting from some of its provincial affiliates.

Both the CHR and the TFDP attribute the majority of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, to the police and military forces, including civilian militia units. The CHR reported that in 1995, the PNP accounted for nearly half the complaints filed. According to the TFDP, the rate of PNP involvement increased during the year. This statistic conformed to a pattern dating from 1989, when the PNP overtook Communist rebels as the Philippines' main institutional violator of human rights.

As in 1995, extrajudicial killings and other security force abuses increased press and public concern for due process. However, personal ties undermined the commitment of some government institutions to ensuring due process and equal justice, resulting in impunity that absolved the entrenched and powerful.

Civilian militia units or Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU's) also committed extrajudicial killings. Organized by the police and the AFP to secure areas cleared of insurgents, these nonprofessional units have inadequate training, poor supervision, and a propensity for violent behavior. Improved training and supervision have corrected some of these flaws, but continued fighting in Mindanao and resistance from some governors, particularly in northern Luzon, who feared a renewed Communist threat, substantially frustrated efforts to lower force levels. The TFDP attributes eight human rights violations in the first 6 months of the year to CAFGU involvement, of which two were extrajudicial killings.

With the upsurge in counterinsurgency fighting in Mindanao (see also Section 1.g.), the TFDP attributed 14 deaths from the first half of 1996 to AFP personnel. The TFDP did not include in this count the April 12 killing of three members of the League of Filipino Students in Camarines Norte who, according to military reports, were also members of the New Peoples' Army (NPA).

Problems of corruption and impunity hindered the prosecution of cases of killings from previous years (see Section 1.e.).

Private security forces maintained by local landowners, political figures, and criminal gangs also committed many killings. Despite a continuing government effort to dismantle "private armies," House of Representatives Speaker Jose de Venecia stated in June that 562 such groups remained. PNP officials estimated that approximately 24,000 persons took part in these groups; the PNP confiscated and disposed of more than 11,000 firearms.

Although the NPA insurgency was greatly reduced from its height in the 1980's, NPA insurgents committed numerous killings, including civilians in mountainous or jungle areas far from Manila, including Mindanao, Negros Island, and the Cordelleria region in northern Luzon. The CHR charged 12 NPA members with human rights violations during the year; the total number of deaths from NPA violence is not known. The NPA also extorted funds and supplies from businessmen, government officials, uncooperative nongovernmental organizations, and families in communities where it operated. Both the NPA and the breakaway Communist Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) targeted and killed police officials and former ("traitor") party members. The ABB claimed credit for the June 13 daytime ambush and killing of former Ilocos Norte Vice Governor Rolando Abadilla on a busy Manila street. Abadilla was the former leader of a martial law security group.

Members of the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) were the suspected killers of two Christian clergymen in Negros Island and Northern Luzon areas. Authorities also suspected that the ASG was responsible for a series of attacks directed against teachers and schools in Basilan.

b. Disappearance

The CHR cited five cases of disappearance in the first nine months of the year, compared with 15 cases for all of 1995. The courts and police have failed to address complaints of families covering disappearances over the past decade. An advocacy group, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance, has presented to the Government records of more than 1,500 such missing individuals.

According to Citizens Action Against Crime, an NGO that closely monitors kidnapings, there was an increase in kidnapings-for-ransom to 147 incidents during the year, involving more than 241 victims, of whom more than 30 were killed. Victims came from the middle to upper-middle class (the wealthiest members of society, being protected by hired bodyguards, were targeted less frequently). Many of the victims were members of the Chinese-Filipino community, which numbers perhaps 1 to 2 percent of the total population and is commonly perceived as wealthy. Fearing retribution, victims and their families typically refused to cooperate with the authorities or to identify their captors, when known. The most prominent victims included renowned architect Gilbert Yu and Leo Ongpin, the nephew of two former Cabinet Secretaries. Ongpin's kidnapers killed him even though they demanded a ransom. Random kidnapings also took place in some Manila neighborhoods, as criminals intercepted cars bearing one or two passengers and held them there while negotiating with their families.

While criminal elements were responsible for some kidnaping incidents, evidence (including the precision with which victims were abducted, and the high powered firearms and sophisticated communication equipment used) along with several court convictions, supported public perceptions that kidnapers often included persons with previous police and military service, as well as active duty personnel.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture, and evidence obtained through its use is legally inadmissible. However, members of the security forces continued to use torture and otherwise abused suspects and detainees. In July the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) distributed a 10-page primer to police on the rights of suspects, from the time of arrest through investigation, detention, and trial. The primer, which the DILG prepared in coordination with the CHR, reiterated standing directives to law enforcement agencies to avoid unnecessary force in all these phases. Nonetheless, abuses continued.

Four cases of torture were reported to the CHR in the first 8 months of 1996, compared with two in 1995. The TFDP cited 3 cases in the first 6 months of 1996, compared with 17 for all of 1995. The CHR maintained its program of human rights awareness training in the military and provided AFP promotion panels with "certificates of clearance" on officers' human rights performance. No comparable program exists for police and custodial officials in charge of the country's jails and prisons, where physical punishment is common. A study commissioned by the NGO LawAsia identified the most common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation as mauling, slaps, strangulation, hitting with rifle butts or wooden clubs, poking with a gun, enclosing a victim's head in cellophane, and applying electrical current to the genitals. Police also reportedly burn or drag suspects behind cars to coerce confessions.

Newspaper editorials and the CHR questioned the March appointment to an elite National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) unit of an officer implicated in a well-publicized 1995 incident in which NBI agents "interrogated" an 18-year-old university student who had intervened to help a jeepney driver being mauled on a Manila street. The assailant was an NBI agent who, along with several companion agents, beat the student severely, then handcuffed, blindfolded, and locked him in a small cell for more than 24 hours. The matter provoked a Senate inquiry and led to the NBI commanding officer's reassignment in a provincial post. Notwithstanding the public record, the Ombudsman dismissed charges of misbehavior for lack of evidence, paving the way for NBI superiors to restore the questioned officer to his position.

Prison conditions are poor. Jails and prisons are overcrowded, have limited exercise and sanitary facilities, and provide prisoners with unhygienic and unpalatable food rations. Guards routinely abuse prisoners; female prisoners are at particular risk of sexual assault. A CHR report on jail facilities throughout the country indicated that of 613 jails visited, only 64 had adequate facilities and were in good condition. Some prominent prisoners and celebrities, however, are treated far better. In June newspapers reported that a detained "drug lord" received not only food but drugs inside his Manila jail cell. Popular movie star Robin Padilla, jailed in 1995 for illegal possession of high-powered firearms, acted in a film and was married in a celebrity wedding ceremony conducted on prison grounds. The May recapture of Rolito Go, a convicted murderer who escaped from jail 3 years earlier, highlighted the fact that prisoners with wealth and connections not only are able to get special privileges but on occasion can bribe their way out of detention.

International monitoring groups, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and foreign embassy officials are allowed free access to jails and prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Although the Constitution requires a judicial determination of probable cause before issuance of an arrest warrant and prohibits holding prisoners incommunicado or in secret places of detention, authorities continue to arrest arbitrarily and detain citizens.

Detainees have the right to a judicial review of the legality of their detention and, except for offenses punishable by a life sentence or death (when evidence of guilt is strong), the right to bail. Authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours of a warrantless arrest, depending upon the seriousness of the alleged crime. The CHR listed 54 cases of illegal arrest and detention for the first quarter of 1996, compared with 129 for all of 1995. The TFDP found that 60 persons were arrested illegally in the first 6 months of 1996, compared with 272 such arrests in the previous year.

The decline in arbitrary arrests and detentions is attributable in part to the Government's domestic peace process, involving talks with Communist, Muslim, and military rebels. The Government in 1995 offered amnesty to former rebels and members of government security forces up to a June 1, 1995, deadline. In the case of rebels, crimes covered by the amnesty must have been committed in pursuit of political beliefs; for members of government forces, the crimes covered had to be those committed in the performance of duty. Members of government security forces who committed serious human rights violations (arson, torture, extrajudicial killings, massacres, rape, torture, and robbery) were excluded from the program. A quasijudicial National Amnesty Commission (NAC), whose decisions are subject to review only by the Court of Appeals, was established to process amnesty applications. The TFDP reported that the NAC processed and oversaw the release of 14 political prisoners during the year. Communist groups rejected the amnesty offer, arguing that it should have stemmed from peace negotiations and not arbitrary action of the Government.

A 1995 LawAsia Human Rights Committee study on administrative detention determined that a majority of interviewed detainees had been arrested without warrant; they were merely "invited" in for police questioning, but subsequently held. The law provides, however, that anyone under custodial investigation, whether or not "invited," is entitled to counsel. The LawAsia study cited numerous violations of constitutional and human rights, such as lack of access to counsel during investigation and interrogation, as well as physical mistreatment during detention.

Several well-publicized incidents illustrated the frequency with which police ignored proper arrest procedure and the complications this posed for other parts of the criminal justice system. In February police responding to a Manila bank robbery arrested a sloppily dressed suspect who, in reality, was a photojournalist who had arrived at the crime scene before the police. Manila's press and the National Union of Journalists provided detailed reporting of police violation of detention laws in arresting and manhandling the "suspect," leading senior police authorities to discipline the officers involved. The June murder of former Ilocos Norte Vice Governor Rolando Abadilla (see Section 1.a.) led to the arrest of several suspects who, the CHR subsequently determined, had been denied counsel and visitorial rights. The CHR was unable to determine if the evidence was sufficient to sustain claims of torture and warrantless arrests, leaving these issues for courts to decide. Police mishandling of the Abadilla case also led the authorities to discipline the officers involved. In August a regional trial court judge acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence five suspects in a murder and rape trial; prosecutors had relied on extrajudicial confessions made without the presence of counsel, which were not admissible in court. DILG Secretary Robert Barbers publicly acknowledged that the trial court judge was observing provisions of the Constitution and advised police to follow authorized procedures when making arrests.

According to the TFDP, the Government continued to detain more than 100 persons who have not been convicted of any offense (see Section 1.e.).

The NPA is responsible for some arbitrary arrests and detentions, often in connection with informal courts set up to try civilians and local politicians for "crimes against the people." Many defendants in such trials are tortured or summarily executed. Breakaway leaders of the CPP have been at particular risk for such "people's court" trials.

Forced exile is illegal and is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judicial system suffers from corruption and inefficiency.

The national court system consists of four levels: local and regional trial courts, a national Court of Appeals divided into 15 divisions, a 15-member Supreme Court, and an informal local system for arbitrating or mediating certain problems, and which operates outside the formal court system.

The Constitution provides that those accused of crimes be informed of charges against them, have the right to counsel, and be provided with a speedy and public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to confront witnesses against them, to present evidence, and to appeal convictions. The authorities generally respect the right of defendants to be represented by a lawyer. There is no jury system under the law; all cases are heard by judges. The judiciary is perceived as biased in favor of the rich and influential. Corruption extends to jails and prisons.

According to the NGO Alterlaw, personal connections, patronage, influence peddling, and bribery are some of the most common "unorthodox" methods used in the practice of law. Legal experts in and outside the justice system also criticize personal and professional relationships between judges and the individuals and corporations whose cases they are assigned. Some law firms, known in that profession as case fixers, gain the favor of judges and other court officials, and bribe some witnesses. While it is technically illegal to settle criminal cases out of court, the practice of reaching an "amicable settlement" is routine; without key victims or witnesses to testify, the authorities are forced to abandon their case. The Government has been unable, for the most part, to take effective action to intervene in these situations.

The pace of justice is slow. The court system is unable to assure detained persons expeditious trials. In July a Manila newspaper published the appeal of a man who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years. He had been imprisoned from 1974 to 1991 on an illegal sentence imposed by a military court. He was released following intervention by the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the CHR.

There is a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. According to the Constitution, cases are to be resolved within set time limits once submitted for decision: 24 months for the Supreme Court; 12 for the Court of Appeals, and 3 months for lower courts. There are no time limits for trials. Because of numerous technical delays and frequent failures of judges and prosecutors to appear, trials can last many months. Police who cut short the investigative process by extracting forced confessions contribute to lengthy court dockets, as judges reject such breaches of due process. In July a regional trial court acquitted six Pakistanis who had been accused of terrorism; the evidence suggested that the police may have planted evidence against the defendants.

In May President Ramos appointed a new DILG Secretary, Robert Barbers, to counter growing criticism of failures in law enforcement. In a high profile case, Barbers personally arrested a town mayor suspected of murdering political rival and human rights activist Clarence Agarao in an attempt to show that an official was not above the law.

In July the NBI filed rape charges against a provincial police chief, the type of powerful local official who in earlier years might have been immune to prosecution. The "Vizconde Massacre" murder trial, whose defendants included an ex-policeman accused of destroying evidence and the sons of several prominent persons, including a sitting Senator, proceeded routinely – with all defendants remaining incarcerated for the duration. Barbers announced late in the year that he had dismissed more than 2,300 members of the police force for dereliction of duty.

Other developments, however, provided further examples of continued corruption in the police and judicial system and of impunity for the rich and powerful. The CHR indicated that 250 members of the PNP were involved in human rights violations in the first 6 months of the year. In October DILG Secretary Barbers and Justice Secretary Guingona quarreled over their respective agencies' failings. Barbers pointed to widespread inaction by prosecutors who fail to bring cases to court, despite clear evidence of criminality. Guingona in turn accused the Manila police of having failed to serve 3,500 warrants issued by judicial authorities. Guingona estimated that there were 30,000 unserved warrants nationwide and more than 50 cases of police refusal to testify in court.

After the May recapture of escaped murderer Rolito Go, it became clear that his ability to elude capture for years was due to help provided by many influential persons, including business associates, law enforcers, mayors, governors, journalists, entertainers, and government officials who could have helped return him to prison. A July Supreme Court decision criticized the performance of a provincial governor, police director, regional trial court judge, and jail warden, whose "connivance or inexcusable negligence" allowed three policemen convicted of murder to escape punishment. Also in July, a large police force assigned to arrest fugitive policemen who had killed four alleged car thieves who came from poor families failed to capture the fugitives; the hunted men reportedly slipped out of their hideaway 2 hours before the police force arrived. In July a 63-year-old woman complained that she had been violently assaulted and robbed at home by her daughter's 28-year-old friend. The alleged assailant was the youngest son of Vice President Joseph Estrada, head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC). Subsequently, the press reported the authorities' inability or unwillingness to prosecute the case. One month after the incident, the victim withdrew her complaint.

Corruption and impunity also tarnished the proceedings in older cases. For example, a case that began with the killing of 11 suspected bank robbers in May 1995 led to a Senate investigation and a conclusion that the police had deliberately and summarily executed the victims. After charges of procrastination, in November 1995 the Ombudsman's office finally indicted 27 policemen, including all four implicated senior officers. Despite this progress, the case had not come to trial by year's end. In February a Kuratong prosecutor reported receiving death threats, then withdrew from the case. A police witness placed under the Government's witness protection program said that a lawyer for the defense had offered him a bribe to clear the top officers. After newspaper criticism, prosecution witnesses charged that some investigators, including the Ombudsman, had links to the accused or their associates. In March the Ombudsman filed a revised indictment, reducing the charges against senior officers from the status of principals in the crime to that of accessories. The downgrading removed the case from the Sandiganbayan, a court for combating corruption, whose jurisdiction is limited to high ranking officials. The Ombudsman's decision sparked protests by key congressmen and human rights groups, calls for his impeachment, and efforts to restore the prior charges and status of the case. In October the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Execution criticized the Government's slow progress in the case. The Government claimed that it could not respond to the U.N.'s question because the case was still in the judicial process; at year's end, the case is unresolved.

The TFDP claims that the slow pace of justice resulted in about 175 political prisoners still being held illegally, of whom more than 100 have yet to be convicted of any offense. The Government disputes this charge, contending that it has released all political prisoners and that those held for allegedly political reasons are being detained for common crimes. It is likely that some of the prisoners in question have committed common crimes, such as illegal possession of firearms, in the pursuit of their political beliefs. It also is possible that some are actual or suspected Communists who were wrongfully convicted of common crimes. Proving this is difficult, however, and the burden of proof of unjust punishment or imprisonment is placed on the prisoner.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides that search warrants may be issued by a judge on a finding of probable cause. Restrictions on search and seizure within private homes are generally observed, although searches without warrants do occur. Judges have declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissable.

The Government does not interfere with the free personal use of the mail or other public communications except upon issuance of a court order in the course of an investigation.

Contradictions remain in the law regarding squatters. Since 1992 forced eviction of squatters has been illegal, unless adequate notice and resettlement sites are provided. However, another law still in force makes squatting a criminal offense. Squatters' rights organizations call for this law's repeal on the grounds that classifying squatters as criminals is unfair, and that the law encourages the police to use violence when responding to a challenge to their authority. Although President Ramos has joined calls for repeal, others argued that repeal would make the practice legitimate.

Human rights NGO's have criticized government efforts to resettle tenant farmers and urban squatters to make way for infrastructure projects, and commercial and housing developments. The U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights expressed concern over reports of forced evictions. Government efforts to resettle squatters have been complicated by extensive poverty, the limited availability of affordable housing for the urban poor, and squatter syndicates that exploit human misery and legal safeguards for pecuniary or political ends. In some instances, government authorities have resorted to forced evictions when faced with repeated, organized squatter occupations of previously cleared land. Critics charged that accelerated government efforts to clear squatters out of areas in Manila, along key highways and railroad rights-of-way, were designed to improve the city's appearance before Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC Summit) leaders met in Manila in November. Land rights problems are made more difficult by the slow process of the Government's exercise of eminent domain and complex zoning regulations.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Despite an historic September peace agreement between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front, a major Islamic insurgent group, occasional clashes between government and insurgent forces continued to inflict hardship on civilians. Most of the fighting took place in the Mindanao provinces, particularly North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Basilan. According to the Ecumenical Commission for Displaced Families and Communities, 10 incidents of armed clashes in the first half of the year displaced some 7,400 families, or nearly 45,000 persons. Civilian casualties reportedly resulted from cannon and rocket fire, despite AFP efforts to limit the use of artillery in civilian areas.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. A number of government officials and private persons either filed or threatened to file libel suits after being embarrassed by press reports. In August leaders in the House of Representatives threatened a libel suit against a newspaper critical of apparent bias by prominent members in favor of their own constituencies. They dropped the threat. Court decisions consistently rejected these suits. Columnist Herman Laurel was arrested in March, based on a complaint filed by the chairman of the autonomous Commission on Elections (Comelec) that he had falsified his citizenship when seeking public office in 1995. The complaint came in the wake of columns written by Laurel in which he criticized actions taken by Comelec and its chairman.

The hazards of reporting on corruption or exposing illegal activities such as gambling, logging, prostitution, and the drug trade among powerful individuals or vested interests are greatest outside Manila. Provincial editor and publisher Ferdinand Reyes, against whom some 30 libel cases had been filed, was killed on February 12 and, despite multiple police claims to have solved the case, his murderer remained at large. No arrest was made. Other provincial journalists and radio broadcasters, whose public affairs programs reach a much wider audience than either newspapers or television, were threatened by local police and government officials. In March two correspondents for national dailies were wounded by shots fired by an unidentified assailant.

In December a television reporter was killed at his home in Cavite after investigating drug trafficking; there were no arrests by year's end.

Despite a 1995 change in leadership, the government-appointed Movie and Television Review and Classification Board continued to censor films on the grounds that certain sexually related scenes were contrary to Philippine cultural values, customs, and morals. Electronic media access is unhindered.

The Government respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens enjoy the freedom to change their places of residence and employment. Travel abroad is limited only in rare circumstances, such as pending court cases or when government authorities try to discourage travel by vulnerable workers such as young women traveling to areas where they face personal risk (see Section 5).

The Government continued to allow approximately 1,910 asylum seekers from Vietnam to remain in the Philippines after the termination of the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) on June 30. All these asylum seekers have been "screened out" from refugee status in accordance with CPA provisions. Approximately 1,020 of these remain in a first asylum camp in Palawan, while approximately 890 have fled into the population.

The Government continued to encourage voluntary repatriation of the screened out asylum seekers and has ruled out forcible repatriation. There is significant government and nongovernmental support (particularly from the Catholic Church) for allowing the screened out asylum seekers who do not wish to repatriate and who are ineligible for resettlement in third countries to remain in the Philippines permanently.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right through periodic elections. Congress has yet to enact, however, a system for absentee voting, as required by the Constitution. This provision affects an estimated 4 million potential voters or about 10 percent of the electorate, most of whom are expatriates. In June Congress passed a measure easing domestic registration requirements.

An estimated 70 to 75 percent of registered voters participated in 1995 national and local elections that confirmed the control of a loose progovernment coalition in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The hand-counting of millions of paper ballots delayed the official announcement of election results and contributed, according to the National Movement for Free Elections, to cheating that distorted the tallies in certain Senate races.

Additional details of 1995 election fraud became public in 1996 as a result of an election protest filed by former Senator Aquilino Pimentel with the Senate Electoral Tribunal. Pimentel alleged that he was victimized by a systematic campaign of vote tampering, "Operation Dagdag-Bawas" (literally "Addition-Subtraction"), which boosted the votes of rivals at his expense. While several Senators warned that delay in resolving the matter would adversely affect the Senate's credibility, and newspaper editorials criticized Comelec for errors in its slow operation, the most effective protest emerged from within Comelec itself. In June senior Commission staffers protested the Chairman's indecision and delay in resolving major issues and the Commission's failure to prosecute those responsible for the Dagdag-Bawas operation and other irregularities.

In 1996 the Government achieved significant gains in peace talks with insurgent groups, which had begun in 1995. In September government negotiators reached a peace agreement with the largest Muslim insurgent group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which settled several basic disputes. These included the establishment of a transitional regional council for peace and development in Mindanao, headed by the MNLF, and MNLF participation in elections for the government of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). After 3 years, a new regional government is to be created and a plebiscite held to determine which provinces will form part of the reconstituted autonomous zone.

In July the Government resumed negotiations with the Joma Sison-led faction of the CPP. These talks had stalled in 1995 over the release of a captured NPA leader. Progress remained slow, however, with Communist negotiators insisting on receiving "belligerency" status.

There are no restrictions in law or practice on participation by women and minorities in politics. Three women head cabinet departments, 4 of the 24 Senators are women, 23 of the 204 elected members of the House are women, and 2 additional women serve as appointed "sectoral" members of the House.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views. The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), a leading NGO network, reported that official harassment of human rights workers continued, but on a reduced scale. They cited the initiative of local military or police commanders.

The Manila office of Amnesty International hosted a September conference on Human Rights in China. A major coalition of human rights and labor groups hosted the Asia Pacific regional conferences during the November APEC meetings.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination against women, children, and members of minorities. Implementation of constitutional protections is at times hindered by lack of implementing legislation and by budgetary constraints.

Women

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is a serious problem. The Women's Crisis Center, an NGO assisting abused and battered women, reported that it receives over 100 calls per week from battered women in the metropolitan Manila area. Women's advocates cite the lack of laws on domestic violence, double standards of morality, and a traditional societal reluctance to discuss private family affairs as some of the reasons for domestic violence. The absence of divorce under the law and the lack of job opportunities combine to limit the ability of both poor and wealthy women to escape destructive relationships.

Nonetheless, women's rights advocates describe the greater willingness of women to speak out, despite a sense of shame, fear, and a desire to preserve "family honor," as a positive movement toward gender equality. Working in conjunction with NGO's, the Government's Bureau of Women's Welfare supports temporary shelters to protect female victims from further harm and high risk situations. Bureau officials believe that these programs, along with changing attitudes, accounted for the increase in batterings reported to authorities, which more than doubled between 1994 and 1995 and continued to increase in 1996. Both the Bureau and the PNP maintain a Women's Help Desk to protect women and encourage the reporting of crimes. PNP stations include female as well as male officers who, with help from NGO's, receive gender-sensitivity training in dealing with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence.

Rape continues to be a major problem, and reports of rape continued to increase.

Public pressure on Congress to enact reform legislation mounted. Both houses passed a measure introduced in 1994 to change the definition of rape, classifying it as a crime against a person instead of a crime against chastity, which is punishable only under the civil code. Controversial provisions in the bill would make marital rape a crime, expand the definition of rape, rule out sexual history as an issue in rape prosecution, and allow a rape victim's family or the State to file a complaint on the victim's behalf. It awaited conference committee agreement at year's end.

As with battering, government officials attributed the increase in reported rape to changing attitudes. Women's groups charge that the male-dominated law enforcement and judicial systems treat accused rapists leniently. For example, they cited the August dismissal of a rape complaint brought by the 42-year-old executive director of the Davao Chamber of Commerce against a 61-year-old local businessman and past president of that organization. Judicial authorities held that the alleged victim's complaint was not credible because, as a highly educated career woman, it was not possible for her to have been cowed into submission. Such paralysis and refusal to fight back, they asserted, could be an expected response only of a young, immature, and unlettered female.

While rape trials entailed the risk of the victim's own behavior, the restored death penalty emerged as a further factor inhibiting victims from pressing charges. Convictions for rape could and often did result in imposition of a death sentence (approximately half of all capital punishment convictions involved rape).

Women and girls in the lower economic stratums seek economic improvement through employment overseas. They are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unethical recruiters who promise jobs abroad or, in some cases, arrange marriages with foreign men. Some find work only as prostitutes or suffer abuse at the hands of their foreign employers or husbands. Those recruited to work as maids, entertainers, or models may, while overseas, be forced to participate in public shows or dances where nudity and the prospect of sex is the principal attraction. Others knowingly accept questionable jobs to support parents, children, or siblings with their remittances. To curb such abuses, the Government campaigned to end illegal recruiting and, by raising age, educational, and professional standards for young women seeking jobs abroad, tried to discourage employment migration. The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 sought to provide the Government with greater financial resources and improved authority to combat these problems. NGO's agreed unanimously that these measures were not adequate.

Prostitution remains illegal, but widespread, and a fact of life for many poorer Filipinos with otherwise limited economic and job opportunities. While penalties for prostitution are light, detained prostitutes are subjected to administrative indignities. Public pressure mounted for legal action to be directed not only against prostitutes but also against their employers and clients seeking their services.

In law but not in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded men. The Women in Development and Nation Building Act of 1992 terminated previous restrictions on women's rights to buy and sell property. Lack of public awareness and limited governmental implementing machinery limit the effectiveness of this reform.

Church opposition to divorce in this overwhelmingly Catholic nation is strong. Changes in the Legal Code have made marriage annulment fairly easy, and the practice has become more frequent. The legal cost, however, precludes this option for many women. The practice of "unofficial divorce" (permanent separation) is common among lower income families; in these cases the wife is usually left with the children, and the husband provides little or no financial support.

Except for government service and jobs in Government-owned or controlled corporations, women face discrimination in employment. Among administrative, executive, and managerial workers, the average woman's salary is only one-third that of her male counterparts.

Sexual harassment is also a problem. A recent survey by the Institute of Labor Studies found workplace sexual harassment to be widespread, yet underreported due to victims' reticence and fear of losing their jobs. In February a city health officer in Cagayan de Oro was forced to take a leave of absence after nine women complained that he had harassed them. In July the Supreme Court dismissed a regional trial court judge after a series of accusations of harassment.

Children

Several government agencies have programs devoted to the education, welfare, and development of children. The CHR's Child Rights Center (CRC), which opened in 1994, is designed to monitor and investigate violations of children's rights.

Reflecting generally increased societal awareness of abuse against women and children, the CRC's case load rose more than 50 percent above its 1995 level. Lack of funding, incomplete interagency coordination, and failure to institutionalize sensitivity to children's needs among the agencies tasked to carry out enforcement limit the Government's ability to achieve its protection objectives.

The Intercountry Adoption Act of 1995, which strengthened safeguards against the sale and trafficking of children abroad, expanded on children's rights legislation enacted in 1992 and 1993. In June the Philippines ratified the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Children's rights advocates criticized the Congress' failure to pass previously introduced legislation that would have created children's and family courts to handle juvenile and domestic relations cases. As traditional societal values define children as extensions and property of the parents, ordinary courts favor parental authority over the rights of a child.

A conference on children's rights and the media was held in Manila in July. Members of the media, the academic community, government officials, and NGO's discussed the often adverse media effect on children, prostitution of children, and sex tourism. Subsequently, two foreigners accused of pedophilia were tried, convicted, and jailed.

Widespread poverty hindered government efforts to eradicate organized abuses involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children. A disastrous fire in March in a fashionable Manila discotheque, which resulted in the death of over 150 people, highlighted the appeal that illegal employment holds for some minors. The victims included "guest relations officers" who, as with other teenagers working in brothels, bars, and massage parlors, were lured to commercial sex jobs by the prospect of high incomes. Manila municipal officials shut down some sexually oriented establishments employing minors. Notwithstanding such efforts, 60,000 children according to UNICEF estimates, remained as prostitutes and victims of pedophilia.

As with women's issues, greater public awareness eroded traditional reticence to report abuses against children. Reports of rape, incest, and other forms of abuse mounted, with trials leading to conviction and harsh sentences, usually life imprisonment or death. As in 1995, of some 200 men sentenced to die by year's end, over half had been found guilty of rape and, of these, most had abused children under 15 years of age.

Rape figured in another area of child abuse highlighted during the year. Fifteen-year-old Sarah Balabagan, sent in 1994 to work as a domestic in Abu Dhabi, killed her 58-year-old employer as he sexually assaulted her. The Philippine press and public strongly criticized the decision of a Muslim court in Abu Dhabi, which tried and sentenced her to death. With her release from prison and return home in August, government authorities had to face other distressing aspects of her experience: the connivance between parents, recruiters, and corrupt government officials that produced falsified documents giving her age as 27. There were also similar cases in which parents knowingly conspired to exploit their children by sending them abroad to work.

Street begging and truancy are common in large cities. The CHR estimates the number of street orphans in metropolitan Manila at fewer than 1,000, but up to 100,000 destitute children spend most of their waking hours on the streets. The insurgency in Mindanao and other southern islands added to Manila's street children problem.

People with Disabilities

A 1983 law provides for equal physical access for the disabled to all public buildings and establishments, and a law passed in 1992 provides for "the rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance of disabled persons and their integration into the mainstream of society." Advocates for the rights of the disabled contend that these laws have been ineffective, as implementing regulations have not been published, and government programs are palliative rather than focused on reintegration.

Indigenous People

Indigenous people live throughout the Philippines but primarily in the mountainous areas of northern Luzon and Mindanao. They account for 10 to 15 percent of the population. Although no specific laws discriminate against indigenous people, the remoteness of the areas many inhabit and cultural bias prevent their full integration into society. Their ability to participate meaningfully in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources is minimal. Because they inhabit mountainous areas also favored by guerrillas, indigenous people suffer disproportionately from counterinsurgency operations. In particular, indigenous children suffer disproportionately from a lack of basic services, health, and education.

Although the 1987 Constitution provides for the protection of the ancestral lands and cultures of indigenous people, the Government had not actively supported legislation to enforce these rights until late in the year. In the absence of such legislation, the Government has issued "certificates of ancestral land claims." Other measures affect ancestral lands in less benign ways. For example, development projects infringed on indigenous lands and rights. The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 continued a legislative trend promoting mining operations, hydroelectric dams, and other large-scale projects that force indigenous communities to relocate and abandon farming and hunting lands used for generations. In an August meeting with northern and southern Philippine indigenous group representatives, President Ramos stressed that "if development is to be for all Filipinos and not just for a privileged and powerful few, then we must assume the burdens of our ethnic people as a special and urgent concern." The Government's inability to strike an acceptable balance between protection of ancestral lands and economic development again hindered efforts to pass an Autonomy Act for northern Luzon's Cordillera region. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo displaced several thousand indigenous Aeta families as well as other residents of central Luzon.

Religious Minorities

Muslims, who comprise about 5 percent of the population and reside principally in Mindanao and nearby islands, constitute the largest minority group in the country. They historically have been alienated from the dominant Christian majority, and government efforts to integrate Muslims into the political and economic fabric of the country have met with only limited success. Distrust of Muslim loyalty has occasionally led to police raids, such as that which occurred on March 18 in Tagig (suburban Manila), when able-bodied men were rounded up as suspected members of the ASG, MILF, or MNLF.

Philippine culture, with its emphasis on familial, tribal, and regional loyalties, creates informal barriers whereby access to jobs or resources is provided first to those of one's own family or group. Many Muslims claim that they continue to be underrepresented in senior civilian and military positions.

In June government negotiations with the MNLF dramatically improved prospects for better Christian-Muslim relations. In accordance with their agreement, a Southern Philippines Council on Peace and Development (SPCPD) was established to coordinate economic growth in 14 provinces in Mindanao. MNLF leaders were granted key leadership positions in the SPCPD, with provision for a Muslim religious council to advise it. The accord also provided for integrating MNLF fighters into the armed forces and police. The two sides expect this initiative to ease Christian and Muslim suspicions of each other and, by improving ethnic harmony and promoting economic growth, to bring the region political stability. Demonstrating his acceptance of the Philippine political system, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari agreed to chair the SPCPD and run for governor of the ARMM, which was established in 1990 to meet the demand of Muslims for local autonomy in areas where they are a majority or a substantial minority. While portions of Mindanao's Christian population expressed fear of Muslim domination, both the Government and MNLF sought to allay these concerns.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and laws provide for the right of workers, including public employees, to form and join trade unions. Although this right is exercised in practice, aspects of the public sector organization law restrict and discourage organizing. Trade unions are independent of the Government and generally free of political party control. Unions have the right to form or join federations or other labor groups.

Subject to certain procedural restrictions, strikes in the private sector are legal. However, a 1989 law stipulates that all means of reconciliation must be exhausted and that the strike issue has to be relevant to the labor contract or the law.

In February 1995, the Committee of Experts of the International Labor Organization (ILO) noted that certain amendments have been proposed to legislation that the Committee had previously criticized for placing undue restrictions on the right to strike in nonessential services. The Committee remains concerned by the imposition of penalties in cases where strikes have been deemed illegal, by restrictions on the right of government workers to strike, by some restrictions on the right to organize and form a bargaining unit which are in conflict with ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association, and by limitations on the right to elect workers' representatives freely.

The number of strikes declined in the first 6 months of 1996, with 44 cases reported (as compared with 63 during the same period in 1995). Workdays lost to work stoppages declined even further, from 266,000 to 131,000. Workers involved in industrial disputes decreased from 38,670 to 8,564.

In March the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association issued a finding that substantiated Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and International Confederation of Free Trade Union (ICFTU) charges of worker rights violations at the Danao (Cebu province) plant of Japanese manufacturer Mitsumi. The case, which began with a February 1994 petition by local union officials to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to hold a certification election, included the arrest of top union officials on spurious criminal (drug) charges, the repeated setting and postponing of elections, and management efforts to prevent workers from participating, or voting freely, in such elections.

According to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), which publicizes allegations of worker rights violations, attacks on striking workers declined from earlier years. The CTUHR documented 39 incidents in the first 6 months of 1996, involving 779 worker-victims. This contrasts with 107 incidents and 7,673 victims in 1995. Although the police continued to be involved in many of these cases, the CTUHR noted an upsurge of incidents initiated by management.

Unions have the right to affiliate with international trade union confederations and trade secretariats. Two of the largest trade union centrals, the TUCP and the FFW, are affiliated with the ICFTU and the World Confederation of Labor (WCL) respectively.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Labor Code provides for this right for private sector employees and for employees of government-owned or controlled corporations, but current law limits the rights of government workers. Although unions claim to have organized some 12 percent of the total work force of 29.1 million, fewer than 600,000 workers (2 percent) are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Unions oppose government efforts to loosen prohibitions against "labor only" subcontracting. Unions prefer to criminalize this practice, which they claim allows unscrupulous employers to use subcontractors to evade obligations to their employees and to break unions.

Some employers intimidated workers trying to form a union with threats of firing, factory closure or, as happened at Mitsumi, the filing of criminal charges against labor leaders. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review as possible unfair labor practices before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Before disputes reach the time-consuming, quasi-judicial NLRC, the DOLE provides the services of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB). The NCMB settles most of the unfair labor practice disputes raised as grounds for strikes before such strikes can be declared.

Labor law is uniform throughout the country, including export processing zones (EPZ's). However, local officials in most of the EPZ's and the Special Economic Zones have tried to frustrate organizing efforts by maintaining "union free/strike free" policies. The 1995 election defeat of one such official, the Governor of Cavite, opened the way for significant union organizing gains both in the EPZ and Cavite province itself.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is prohibited, and the Government effectively enforces this prohibition.

The Government's efforts to protect workers from abuse also extends to the large number of Philippine workers overseas. By raising the issue in bilateral contacts and international forums, it attempts to secure firmer guarantees of basic rights for guest workers and otherwise provides assistance through its diplomatic missions.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits the employment of children below the age of 15, except under the direct and sole responsibility of parents or guardians or where employment in cinema, theater, radio, or television is essential. The Labor Code allows employment for those between the ages of 15 and 18 for such hours and periods of the day as are determined by the Secretary of Labor, but it forbids employment of persons under 18 years of age in hazardous or dangerous work. However, a significant number of children under the legal are are employed in the informal sector of the urban economy or as unpaid family workers in rural areas. In the formal sector, instances of child labor are few. Some children continued to be employed in a dangerous form of coral reef fishing, which exposes them to shark and needlefish attacks and increases their vulnerability to disease.

In addition to projects undertaken with the U.N. Children's Fund and the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), the DOLE investigated and attempted to reduce violations of child labor laws outside the agricultural sector through publicized raids on reported violators. The DOLE's raids were coordinated with police and, at times, with personnel from concerned NGO's, especially the Kamalayan Development Foundation. Heightened public awareness led to greater cooperation by local authorities, increased involvement by government agencies, and prosecution of violators. By year's end, however, none of these prosecutions had led to a conviction and sentencing. Kamalayan also complained of shortcomings in government efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate rescued children into society.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Tripartite regional wage boards set minimum wages. The latest round of wage increases occurred in late 1995 and early 1996, with the highest rates set in the National Capital region (NCR) and the lowest in rural regions. The minimum wage for NCR nonagricultural workers is approximately $6.30 (P165) per day. This wage represents a 13.8 percent nominal increase over the previous minimum for the region. With this amount, at least two family members would have to work (one full-time, one part-time) to support a family of six above the Government's "poverty threshold." Regional board wage orders cover all private sector workers except domestic helpers and those employed in the personal service of another. Boards outside the NCR exempted some employers because of factors such as establishment size, industry sector, involvement with exports, financial distress, and level of capitalization. These exemptions excluded substantial additional numbers of workers from coverage under the law. DOLE surveys in the first several months of 1996 showed that some 22 percent of inspected establishments violated the minimum wage law. Given the difficulty of prosecuting cases through the courts, the DOLE relies on administrative procedures and moral suasion to encourage voluntary employer correction of violations.

The standard legal workweek is 48 hours for most categories of industrial workers and 40 hours for government workers, with an 8 hour per day limit. An overtime rate of 125 percent of the hourly rate is mandated on ordinary days and 130 percent on rest days and holidays. The law mandates a full day of rest weekly. Enforcement of workweek hours is managed through periodic inspections by the DOLE.

A comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards exists in law. Although policy formulation and review of these standards is the responsibility of the DOLE, actual enforcement is carried out by an inspectorate corps of some 260 labor and employment officers in 14 regional offices. Statistics on actual work-related accidents and illnesses are incomplete, as incidents (especially in regard to agriculture) are underreported. Workers do not have a legally protected right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

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