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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Philippines

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Philippines, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3c4.html [accessed 13 July 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.
THE PHILIPPINES

 

The Philippines is a democratic republic with an elected President, a fully functioning political party system, a bicameral legislature, a free press, and an independent judiciary. National elections were held in May for the House of Representatives and half the Senate. The elections and campaign period were generally fair, although they were marred by incidents of violence in a few areas and allegations of fraud. Peace talks that the Government began with three insurgent groups in 1993 continued with varying degrees of success.

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 and radical Muslim separatists. According to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency, the police continue to be the leading abusers of human rights. Military forces, including local civilian militias, the Communist New People's Army (NPA), and Muslim insurgent groups also 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 implemented reforms in foreign investment, trade, foreign exchange, privatization, banking, insurance, and telecommunications. Exports and investments spurred 1994's 5.1 percent real gross national product expansion, a trend which continued in 1995. 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. Between 40 and 45 percent of the 70 million population are unable to meet basic nutritional and non-food needs, while the richest 10 percent of all families account for nearly 40 percent of national income.

The Government's human rights record improved, although serious problems remain in certain areas. Declining numbers of abuses in most categories reflected a reduction in the number of military encounters between government and insurgent forces. Incidents in the first part of the year included several instances of extrajudicial killing, as well as cases of disappearance, arbitrary arrest, and torture. Some of these abuses are perpetrated within the context of police and military involvement in illegal activities such as protection rackets, political gangsterism, kidnap for ransom syndicates, and assistance to illegal loggers. Others are rationalized as necessary shortcuts to fighting crime in a criminal justice system said to be slow, cumbersome, and disposed to freeing criminals or treating them leniently. Unlike previous years, however, public attitudes and institutional responses were less accommodating to instances of abuse, as concern for concepts of due process and equal justice increased. While the courts remained hobbled by backlogs, limited resources, and venality, several landmark decisions constituted at least symbolic progress in trying, convicting, and punishing human rights abusers. The 3 to 4 million Filipinos living abroad were not able to vote in 1995 elections because Congress has yet to enact absentee voting legislation as required by the Constitution. Violence and discrimination against women and children continued to be serious problems. To combat them, the Government devoted limited resources which were complemented by significant assistance from nongovernmental organizations (NGO's).

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 56 incidents of political or extrajudicial killing during the first half of 1995. It reported 200 such killings for 1994. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a prominent NGO, reported 27 people killed extrajudicially in the first 10 months of 1995 as compared to 30 for all of 1994. The numbers given by CHR are higher, in part because the CHR includes violations by both the 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 for 1995 was affected by an internal organizational dispute that limited reporting from many of its provincial affiliates.

Both CHR and 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 the first half of 1995 the PNP was the target of complaints in just under half of 464 cases filed. This statistic conformed with a pattern dating from 1989, when the PNP overtook Communist rebels as the Philippines' main institutional violator of human rights. The CHR noted, however, that police officials filed criminal and administrative charges against PNP members suspected of rights violations. In August the Government announced that 251 PNP field officers had been relieved, and 975 others reassigned, as part of the second phase of a PNP reform program.

These statistics, however, provide only a partial record of the year's most significant human rights developments as a series of seemingly unrelated events combined to form a pattern of rising public concern for, and disapproval of, extrajudicial killings and other forms of rights violations. Changing public attitudes were reflected in the actions of judges, the press, government institutions, and the police themselves.

A key event in this process occurred on March 14, when a judge concluded a 16-month trial by finding Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez and several henchmen (some of whom were policemen) guilty of raping and murdering a University of the Philippines coed and killing her boyfriend. The conviction and sentence to life imprisonment contradicted the popular impression of a criminal justice system that punished the poor but protected those rich or influential enough to buy public officials and court verdicts. Mayor Sanchez personified the traditional local landowner or political leader who, controlling a "private army," was above the law--literally able to get away with murder.

The Sanchez verdict was announced at a time when public opinion was focused on the case of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic helper found guilty of murder and hanged in Singapore on March 17. Millions of Filipinos believed that she was an innocent victim who had been denied due process of law. These two cases served as background to public reaction when, on May 18, police reported the killing of 11 suspected "Kuratong Baleleng" bank robbers in a nighttime "shootout" on a Manila street. Within days first one, then a second policeman came forward to contradict the official version and affirm that police had executed the bank robbers. Following a Senate hearing, four senior police officials resigned, a special police investigating committee recommended the filing of multiple murder charges against those involved, and newspaper columnists wrote of the link between democracy and respect for due process of law. In late October, the Ombudsman indicted all 4 of the implicated top officers, along with 23 other policemen.

In addition to Kuratong Baleleng, public attention in May focused on yet another instance of extrajudicial killings, known as the "Vizconde Massacre," committed in 1991 by suspected "untouchable" members of society. The case was reopened in 1995. The nine suspects indicted in August included an ex-policeman (accused of deliberately destroying evidence at the scene of the crime) and the sons of several prominent families, including that of a sitting senator (see also Section 1.e.).

In the wake of the uproar created by the Kuratong Baleleng and Vizconde cases, other charges emerged of extrajudicial killings and police coverups. On July 31, the Department of Justice dismissed charges of illegal possession of firearms filed against the companions of a businessman slain in his car by police operatives in January. The state prosecutor held that the charges were a coverup to justify the victim's killing. In August a Senate committee rejected a PNP claim that a Muslim computer engineering student from Mindanao had been killed while resisting arrest in a July 13 "shootout." Murder charges were subsequently filed against nine Quezon City policemen. On August 3, the National Bureau of Investigation arrested a former police officer, the prime suspect in the brutal November 1986 slaying of trade union leader Rolando Olalia and his driver.

As a result of these and other instances of misbehavior, calls for a restructuring of the police mounted. Saying that it was a "rotten command," House of Representatives Speaker Jose de Venecia called in July for a nationwide reorganization of the PNP. At that point, the first phase of a shakeup ordered by President Ramos had already resulted in the replacement of 13 top PNP officials. By midyear, there appeared to be broad consensus among the President, the Congress, and the press on the urgency of reform of the country's police and judicial systems (see also Section 1.e.).

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 are often inadequately trained, poorly supervised, and prone to violence. As part of its continuing effort to disband CAFGU's, the military brought force levels down to 50,000 men in mid-1995. While this reduction was made easier by lessened NPA activity, incidents involving Muslim insurgent groups affected plans for reducing CAFGU units in the south.

Reflecting the reduction in counterinsurgency activity, the TFDP attributes only 17 human rights violations in the first 10 months of 1995 to CAFGU's, of which 3 were extrajudicial killings. In a prior case that attracted wide attention, two CAFGU personnel were charged with the February 1993 killing of TFDP worker Chris Batan in Mountain province. The authorities arrested one suspect, who was convicted of murder in July and sentenced to life imprisonment. The second suspect remains at large.

Reduced counterinsurgency activity also resulted in fewer reported human rights violations by the AFP. The TFDP counted 27 AFP incidents in the first half of 1995 (compared with 196 in 1994), none of which involved extrajudicial killing.

Although the NPA was responsible for a large number of extrajudicial killings at the height of the insurgency in the 1980's, the number has since declined. Several 1995 killings were attributed either to followers of the CPP faction led by party founder Jose Maria Sison or to members of the rival "rejectionist" wing's hit squad, the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB). Those killed included police officials, breakaway ("traitor") party members, and persons believed to be responsible for the deaths of members of the CPP and ABB. On December 11, the ABB claimed responsibility for killing one of three trageted prominent Chinese-Filipino businessmen who allegedly abused his workers.

Muslim extremists such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), also known as al-Harakat al-Islamiya, carried out other politically motivated murders. The most notorious incident involved an April 4 raid on the Mindanao city of Ipil, in which some 50 people died (see Section 1.g.).

Private security forces maintained by local landowners, political figures, and overtly criminal gangs also committed extrajudicial killings. The Government's campaign to dismantle "private armies" achieved limited success, capturing significant quantities of assault rifles, machine guns, hand grenades, bazookas, and mortars. As of midyear, however, police estimated that more than 100 private armies remained. In August some 119 persons including a former city mayor were arrested in the election violence-plagued province of Nueva Ecija. In the same month, police prepared illegal possession of weapons charges against the governor of Bataan province and seven of his bodyguards, who were arrested while maintaining an unauthorized checkpoint.

Rival political candidates and their followers, many of whom were employed in private armies, were responsible for poll violence in the lead-up to May national and local elections. Over 80 deaths were reported--a tally higher than in either 1992 or 1994 polls (also see Section 3).

b. Disappearance

The CHR cited six cases of disappearance in the first half of 1995 compared with nine cases for all of 1994. The TFDP reported one disappearance for the first 10 months of 1995 compared with three cases for all of 1994. Because disappearances most commonly involve alleged insurgents or informants, the decline is largely attributable to the continued decrease in insurgent activity.

Kidnapings of wealthy individuals for ransom continued to be a problem. 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 better off financially. Fearing retribution, victims typically refused to identify their captors (when known); their families often denied a kidnaping had occurred. On August 10, armed assailants tried to kidnap a young Manila banker. The intended victim resisted and was shot and killed on a public street. While criminal elements accounted for some incidents, evidence (including court convictions) supported public perceptions that conspirators included persons with previous police and military service, as well as some active duty personnel. Although cloaking their criminal activity under ideological cover, breakaway remnants of the CPP and Muslim extremists also engaged in kidnaping for profit.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. Guidelines issued by the CHR in 1988 direct all law enforcement agencies and military elements to avoid unnecessary force during investigation, arrest, detention, interrogation, and other activities. Nonetheless, abuses continue.

The CHR reported no cases of torture in the first half of 1995, compared with seven cases in 1994. The TFDP cited 14 cases in the first 10 months of 1995, compared to 42 for all of 1994. The CHR also cites improved human rights awareness in the military, which it attributes to its human rights training programs for military officers and its practice of providing AFP promotion panels with "certificates of clearance" on officers' human rights performance. However, the statistics generally exclude incidents of torture involving common criminals or others outside the context of counterinsurgency activities. In addition, many cases go unreported because the victims fear reprisal if they seek redress.

Physical punishment is commonplace in jails and prisons. Police forces commit most such offenses, especially during arrest and interrogation of prisoners. According to a study commissioned by the NGO, LawAsia, the most common forms of abuse include 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. 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. Prisoners generally were kept in substandard conditions, fed limited rations, and subjected to abuses. Women were at particular risk for sexual assault.

However, societal tolerance for such police misbehavior appears to be decreasing. On March 17, an 18-year-old University of the Philippines student intervened to assist a jeepney driver being mauled on a Manila street. The assailant, an NBI agent, turned on the student and, joined by several companion agents, beat him severely. The student was handcuffed, blindfolded, and locked in a small cell for over 24 hours. University authorities offered the services of their legal department to the student's family ("to stop the NBI from perpetrating this on other people"). The press turned the case into a highly controversial matter, the Senate opened an inquiry, and on June 27 the CHR recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against NBI officials. In July the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) revisited the case of three 12-year-old boys arrested in February as suspects in a kidnaping. The PCIJ report charged that Presidential Anti-Crime Commission agents had interrogated the boys without their parents or a lawyer present, detained them contrary to law, and inflicted physical and mental torture. The report prompted the CHR to reopen an earlier investigation. On July 13, the CHR announced that the boys had not been tortured but were victims of "police brutality." The PCIJ emphasized that "children suspected of crimes have rights and, in this...case, these rights were violated."

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, the authorities continue to make illegal arrests and hold people in detention. 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 on the seriousness of the crime. The CHR listed 49 cases of illegal arrest and detention for the first half of 1995, compared with 130 for all of 1994. The TFDP found that 204 persons were arrested illegally in the first 10 months of 1995, compared with 593 such arrests in the previous year. The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), a leading NGO network, noted that no human rights workers were arrested in the first 10 months of 1995.

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

On October 13, the Government signed an agreement with the three military rebel groups, Rebolusyonarong Alyansang Makabansa, the Soldiers of the Filipino People, and the Young Officers' Union, formally ending their rebellion. The three groups undertook to cease hostilties, disarm, and be reintegrated in the AFP in return for an amnesty for offenses committed in pursuit of their political beliefs and a promise by the Government to pursue social and political reforms.

A 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 questioning and subsequently held. The study cited numerous violations of constitutional and human rights, such as lack of access to counsel during investigation and interrogation and physical maltreatment during detention.

The TFDP claims that about 200 political prisoners are still being held illegally, two-thirds of whom 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 200 prisoners in question have committed common crimes, e.g., illegal possession of firearms, in the pursuit of their political beliefs. It also is possible that some are actual or suspected Communists who were framed for common crimes. Proving this is difficult, however, and the burden of proof of unjust punishment or imprisonment is placed on the prisoner.

The NPA is responsible for some extrajudicial arrests and detentions, often in connection with "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 "people's court" trials.

Forced exile is illegal and is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution calls 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, and a 15-member Supreme Court.

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

According to the NGO Alterlaw, whose staff comes from the University of the Philippines and Ateneo Law Schools, personal connections, patronage, influence peddling, and bribery are some of the most common "unorthodox" methods used in the practice of law in the Philippines. 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. Many leading law firms, known in the trade as case fixers, gain the favor of judges and other court officials. Witnesses have easily been paid off. 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.

There is a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. The limit for hearing a trial is 90 days and that for deciding cases is 45. However, the period only begins after a case is brought to trial. Because of numerous technical delays and frequent failures of judges and prosecutors to appear, even the 90-day limit is often not met. Police who short circuit the investigative process by extracting forced confessions contribute to clogged court dockets, as judges reject such denials of due process and send affected cases back for reinvestigation.

Despite longstanding problems in the criminal justice system, events during the year stimulated significant shifts in public attitudes toward it. As noted (see Section 1.a. and above), the system has been perceived as biased--imposing stern justice on the poor, but allowing the rich and powerful to escape with impunity. In March, however, a judge convicted and imposed the maximum allowable penalty on Calauan Mayor Sanchez, the type of influential and entrenched local official who, in the past, had been able to get away with murder. In July another judge sentenced a top-ranking police colonel to life imprisonment after finding him guilty of kidnaping a Taiwanese businessman in 1993. Also in July, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of a regional trial court convicting popular film star Robin Padilla (notorious for outrageous conduct in public as well as on-screen) for illegal possession of high-powered firearms. After 4 weeks in hiding to evade arrest, Padilla surrendered and was jailed in late August, condemned by unrelenting press attention to receive treatment there on equal terms and under equal conditions with other prisoners. The sons of several prominent upper middle class families who in August were indicted and (pending trial) promptly jailed for the non-bailable offense of rape-murder (the 1991 "Vizconde massacre") also were incarcerated under standard prison conditions.

The newfound willingness of ordinary citizens to report crimes, despite inconvenience and risk, apparently reflects a heightened public confidence in the criminal justice system. First one police investigator, then a second broke ranks in May to reveal the extralegal killings ("Kuratong Baleleng" executions) organized by their superiors. Their testimony, in nationally televised Senate hearings, prompted a third witness (an investigative reporter) to provide corroborating evidence. In this same period, a 31-year-old woman came forward to provide firsthand information on the Vizconde massacre, which she claimed to have witnessed 5 years earlier. The Government included her and others in its witness protection program, increasing the public's awareness of this mechanism to encourage testimony.

Aside from these specific developments, human rights groups acknowledged their ability to operate in a more open climate. As the press and the public became less tolerant of injustice and restrictions on due process, human rights advocates became less vulnerable to charges of being leftist sympathizers and more willing to act as legal counsel for unpopular persons or causes.

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 are generally observed, although raids without search warrants on private homes do occur. Judges have thrown out evidence obtained illegally.

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

Since 1992 the forced eviction of squatters has been illegal, unless adequate notice and resettlement sites are provided. Human rights NGO's have criticized government efforts to resettle tenant farmers and urban squatters to make way for infrastructure, 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. During a November 27 forced eviction near Manila's "Smokey Mountain" (a dump site), police fired on unarmed squatters, killing one protester and wounding scores of others. Land rights issues 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

Occasional clashes between government and insurgent forces continued to inflict hardships on civilians, particularly in remote areas which were the scene of most fighting. According to the Ecumenical Commission for Displaced Families and Communities, internal conflicts forced some 14,000 families to flee their homes in the first 10 months of 1995. While several communities in Mindanao were caught up in this violence, the 43,000 residents of the city of Ipil suffered the most. On April 4, some 200 masked men arrived in boats, buses, jeeps, and other vehicles. They set afire and looted buildings in the town center, robbed 4 banks, killed some 50 people and wounded a dozen others in indiscriminate firing and fled with 40 hostages. Military authorities, who were criticized for failing to anticipate the attack or come to the city's aid, believe that the assailants were renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the ASG.

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 respects these rights in practice. While supportive of press freedom, the Supreme Court in April warned the media to exercise caution in imputing corruption or ill motives to court decisions or face contempt charges. The Court's warning extended beyond sub judice matters to include postlitigation decisions. In the same month, the Court cited and fined a prominent journalist for contempt, basing its action on that individual's status as a member of the bar (who, as an "officer of the court," was obliged to protect the judiciary's reputation). The Court cited and fined the same individual on a second occasion, this time in his role as a journalist. Moving in a different direction, on November 14 the Court of Appeals strengthened press protection against the danger of libel charges. The Court overturned a lower court verdict that had awarded former President Corazon Aquino damages against a journalist and publisher who, after a 1987 coup attempt, charged she had "hid under a bed." The Court held that critical comment did not of itself constitute defamation or malice in law or fact.

A government-appointed Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) stirred controversy with decisions requiring cuts in internationally acclaimed films on grounds that certain sexually related scenes were contrary to Philippine cultural values, customs, and morals. (A Presidential appeals committee subsequently reversed several such MTRCB decisions, and the MTRCB head was replaced.)

The press continues to face hazards in reporting on corruption or exposing the illegal activities (gambling, logging, prostitution, the drug trade) of powerful individuals or vested interests. The dangers are greatest outside Manila, where several journalists were exposed to threats and violence. One provincial reporter was killed during the election period, while several others were harassed. Radio broadcasters, whose public affairs programs reach a much wider audience than either newspapers or television, are at greatest risk. However, even Manila journalists face dangers. On November 25, prominent columnist Teodoro Benigno returned home to find five intruders holding his family hostage. Although the intruders stole cash and jewelry, their motive appeared to be intimidation, not robbery--one of Benigno's colleagues described it as "an assault on the press."

The Government respects academic freedom in practice. It does not censor subject matter in classes, university publications, or conferences.

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

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

The Government for years provided first asylum to Indochinese boat people, allowed the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) immediate access, and managed the refugee status determination process (screening) in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) agreed on in Geneva in 1989. As a result of completion of the screening process and the June 1994 CPA Steering Committee meeting held in Bangkok, the Government closed all refugee and asylum seeker camps in the Philippines, with the exception of the Philippine First Asylum Camp on Palawan.

By December 1, there were approximately 2,700 Vietnamese asylum seekers remaining in the Philippines. Fewer than 200 had been determined to be "refugees" eligible for resettlement in third countries. As Philippine authorities do not practice forcible repatriation, they encouraged voluntary repatriation in accordance with the provisions of the CPA.

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

Citizens have the right to change their government; however, Congress has not yet enacted a system for absentee voting, as required by the Constitution. This left disenfranchised some 3 to 4 million persons (approximately 10 percent of otherwise eligible voters) who resided abroad during 1995.

An estimated 70 to 75 percent of registered voters participated in national and local elections in May. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are controlled by a loose progovernment coalition whose members do not always vote as a bloc. The counting by hand 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.

Violence and voting irregularities (including multiple registration of voters, nonexistent or dead voters, intimidation, and vote buying) marred the electoral process. More than 80 persons were killed in some 250 election-related incidents. The more prominent victims included a sitting congressman from Masbate province and a gubernatorial challenger in Nueva Ecija.

There are no restrictions in law or practice on participation by women and minorities in politics. One woman heads a Cabinet department, 4 of 24 Senators are women, 23 of 204 elected members of the House are women, and 2 other 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.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination against women, children, and minority groups. Implementation of all constitutional guarantees 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 a week from battered women in the metropolitan Manila area. Women's advocates point to poverty, double standards of morality, lack of laws on domestic violence, and a traditional societal reluctance to discuss private family affairs, as some of the reasons for the prevalence of domestic violence. No divorce rights and the lack of job opportunities combine to limit the ability of women to escape destructive relationships.

Rape continues to be a major problem. Police said that reported rape cases in 1995 showed an alarming increase over 1994. Women's groups charge that accused rapists are dealt with leniently by the male-dominated law enforcement and judicial systems. For example, journalist Rina Jimenez-David criticized a Manila judge who spared a convicted rapist from execution because, when he raped his two victims, he was drunk and high on drugs. These two circumstances, she said, should have been considered "aggravating," not "mitigating" ones. According to women's groups, many women reconcile themselves to abuse by male relatives to preserve family honor. This is particularly true when victims, mostly minors, are forced into incestuous relationships.

In response to these problems, the PNP started a Women's Desk program to protect women and encourage the reporting of crimes against them. PNP stations include female officers trained in dealing with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The Department of Social Welfare and Development also established a Women's Help Desk to act on the emergency needs of battered or sexually abused women, victims of illegal recruitment and armed conflict, and women in detention.

Legislation was proposed in 1994 to change the definition of rape, classifying it as a crime against a person (i.e., a public offense) rather than a crime against chastity (a private offense), and to expand the circumstances and conditions in which rape is considered to have been committed. The proposed law also would have made marital rape a crime and allowed a rape victim's family or the state to file a complaint on her behalf. The measure failed to pass. Although the refiled bill drew continued attention in 1995, it had still not passed Congress by year's end.

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

The Filipino people are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. The law does not allow divorce, and women's rights advocates view this as a major barrier to achieving the empowerment of women. Annulment of marriages is now fairly easy to achieve due to changes in the Legal Code, and the practice has become more common. However, the cost of hiring a lawyer familiar with the new Code precludes this option for many women. The practice of "unofficial divorce" (permanent separation) is common among the lower classes; in these cases the wife is usually left with the children, but the husband provides little or no support for them.

Women and girls in the lower economic strata are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unethical operators who promise employment overseas or arranged marriages with foreign men. Some of these women end up working as prostitutes or suffering abuse at the hands of their foreign employers or husbands. Either through international trafficking syndicates or individual employers, Filipino women were often recruited to work abroad as maids, entertainers, or models and required to participate in public shows or dances where nudity and the prospect of sex was the principal attraction. Others, facing bleak employment prospects at home, accepted questionable jobs in the knowledge that they would be required to engage in prostitution. In order 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. Public outrage over the March 17 execution in Singapore of a Philippine domestic helper (and perceived Philippine Government inadequacy in defending the rights of overseas workers, particularly vulnerable women) spurred Philippine authorities to sensitize their diplomatic and consular personnel to these problems.

Prostitution remains illegal, but widespread, and a fact of life for many poorer Filipinos with limited economic and job opportunities. While penalties for prostitution are light, detained women are subjected to administrative indignities that drew increasing public rebuke in 1995 and a call for legal action to be directed against those employing and seeking the services of prostitutes.

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 1993 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.

Children

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

Legislation enacted in 1992 and 1993 to protect children's rights was expanded by the Intercountry Adoption Act of 1995, which strengthened safeguards against the sale and trafficking of children abroad. In July the Philippines signed the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

Societal values that define children as extensions and property of the parents are a key factor in limiting children's rights. In the absence of special courts to hear children's cases (children as victims, witnesses, offenders), designated courts tend to favor parental authority over the rights of a child.

Many children face serious problems stemming from widespread poverty and the Government's inability to eradicate organized abuses involving child labor and child prostitution.

Widespread media attention to child prostitution and the Philippines' reported notoriety among sex-touring foreign pedophiles spurred intensified government efforts to combat this problem. Local authorities carried out well-publicized raids on brothels, bars, and massage parlors in Manila and other tourist centers. Nonetheless the problem persists (an estimated 60,000 children are victims of prostitution and pedophiles), and the press reported instances of raided establishments which were raided later reopening for "business as usual."

News reports during the year disclosed numerous cases of family child abuse, beatings, and rape, reflecting the growing public awareness and the authorities' increased willingness to investigate such abuse. As in 1994, several men were sentenced to death for having forced incestuous relationships with their minor daughters. (By year's end, of 100 men sentenced to die, 58 had been found guilty of rape. Most of the rapists had abused children under 14 years of age; in several of these cases, the attackers were family members or relatives of the victims.)

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. Although diminished, the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao and other southern islands continues to generate new orphans.

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 of the disabled maintain that these laws have been ineffective, as implementing regulations have not been published, and the Government continues to focus on welfare instead of 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 they inhabit and a cultural bias against them tend to 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 favored by guerrillas, indigenous people suffer disproportionately from counterinsurgency operations. Indigenous children suffer disproportionately from lack of basic services, such as health and education facilities.

Although the 1987 Constitution calls for the protection of the ancestral lands and culture of indigenous people, the Government has not pushed for legislation to enforce these rights. In the absence of such legislation, the Government has issued "certificates of ancestral land claims." Other measures affect ancestral lands in less benign ways. Legislation promoting hydroelectric dams, mining operations, and other large-scale projects have forced indigenous communities to relocate and destroyed farming and hunting lands used for generations. A notable example of recent developmental conflict involves Mindanao's Manobo tribe, some of whose divided members opposed the logging/tree farming plans of a major wood processing company.

Religious Minorities

Muslims, who comprise about 5 percent of the population and reside principally in Mindanao and adjacent islands, constitute the largest minority group in the country. They historically have been alienated from the dominant Christian majority, and efforts to integrate Muslims into the political and economic fabric of the country have met with only limited success.

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.

The Government inaugurated the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 1990 to meet the demands of Muslims for local autonomy in areas where they are a majority or a substantial minority. However, it is limited to the four provinces which elected to join and hobbled by an inadequate tax base, poor performance, and a continued shortfall in promised central government assistance. The MNLF, which has respected a cease-fire negotiated with the Government in 1993, regards the ARMM as an arbitrary creation that falls short of representing the aspirations of all Muslims in the region. Despite differences, ongoing Government-MNLF peace talks made significant progress. In a climate of growing mutual confidence, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari toured Christian-majority parts of Mindanao to promote a broader autonomous region.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and legislation provide for the right of workers, including public employees, to form and join trade unions, and this right is exercised in practice. 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 groupings, and several have affiliated with international trade union confederations and trade secretariats. Two of the largest trade union centrals, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and the Federation of Free Workers, are affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labor respectively.

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.

The Committee of Experts of the International Labor Organization (ILO) noted in February 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, at restrictions on the right of government workers to strike, and at some restrictions on the right to organize and form a bargaining unit, which are in conflict with ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.

According to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), which publicizes allegations of worker rights violations, attacks on striking workers continue to be a problem. The CTUHR counted some 93 incidents in the first 10 months of 1995, involving over 7,400 workers, 5 of whom were killed. The CTUHR said that police were involved in nearly half of these cases.

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 29.2 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. They claim such subcontracting allows employers to evade obligations to their employees and to break unions.

Employers sometimes attempt to intimidate workers trying to form a union with threats of firing or factory closure. 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 Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) encourages workers and employers to use the services of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), which resolves most unfair labor practice disputes in under a month.

Work stoppages numbered 93 as of November 30, a 3 percent increase above the figure for the same period in 1994. Man-days lost to work stoppages totaled 579,000, compared to 478,000 for the first 11 months of 1994.

Labor law is uniform throughout the country, including in export processing zones (EPZ's), although in practice local officials attempting to maintain "union free/strike free" policies frustrate organizing efforts in most of the EPZ's. In February the Philippine Secretary of Labor was quoted in the press as criticizing the management of the EPZ at Subic Bay for trying to ban strikes and unions. In another instance, however, the election defeat of a local governor (in Cavite) opened the way for significant union organizing gains in 1995, with over two dozen new unions organizing in the EPZ and province in the 6 months that followed the election.

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 age 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 forbids employment of persons under 18 years of age in hazardous or deleterious work. However, a significant number of children are employed in the informal sector of the urban economy or as unpaid family workers in rural areas. The most serious, industrywide violations of child labor law occur in clothing related production. Children continue 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 (UNICEF) and the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), the Government has investigated and attempted to reduce violations of child labor laws outside the agricultural sector through well-publicized raids on reported violators. Relying on tips provided by concerned NGO's (especially the Kamalayan Development Foundation), officials of the DOLE and the National Bureau of Investigation continued to carry out raids on factories and commercial chicken and pig farms suspected of employing children. However, Kamalayan complained about the absence of follow-through action to punish lawbreaking employers and recruiters, or to ensure that raided enterprises subsequently comply with legally required labor standards.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Tripartite regional wage boards set minimum wages. The last general rate revision occurred in late 1993, with the highest rate set in Manila and the lowest in rural regions. The minimum wage in the national capital region (NCR) is approximately $5.70 (P145) per day. This amount is insufficient to provide a worker and his family in the NCR with a decent standard of living. Unless at least two family members are working, this minimum wage will not raise a family's income above the Government's "poverty threshhold." Wage boards outside the NCR exempted home employers because of establishment size, industry sector, involvement with exports, and level of capitalization. These exemptions excluded substantial numbers of workers (especially agricultural, domestic, and casual workers) from coverage under the law. A temporary shortage, and consequent rise in price, of rice and sugar in August revived union calls for a legislated nationwide increase in the minimum wage. However, the Government adhered to its policy of leaving responsibility for minimum wage adjustments with the regional wage boards. DOLE surveys showed that in the first half of 1995, 22 percent of the 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 before overtime 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. The law mandates a full day of rest weekly. The 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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