Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October 2014, 07:30 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Philippines

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 26 February 1999
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Philippines, 26 February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5820.html [accessed 23 October 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 is a democratic republic with an elected president, a functioning political party system, and a bicameral legislature. However, political corruption remains endemic in many areas of government, including the electoral and law enforcement systems. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial system suffers from both corruption and inefficiency. President Joseph Estrada was elected in May and took office on June 30. The Government made progress in talks with insurgent groups.

The Department of National Defense directs the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Department of Interior and Local Government has authority over the civilian Philippine National Police (PNP). In mid-1998, the AFP implemented a late 1997 law and gradually took over most counterinsurgency operations from the PNP. The AFT also was involved in local law enforcement efforts, including the pursuit of kidnapers, in Mindanao in 1998. The security forces, including police, soldiers, and local civilian militias committed human rights abuses.

The Government has succeeded in liberalizing the investment, trade, and foreign exchange regimes. Garments and electronics make up more than half of merchandise export receipts and are complemented significantly by overseas worker remittances totaling an estimated $3 billion in the first half of 1998. As a result of the regional economic crisis, the economy recorded almost no growth in 1998. President Estrada set better education, shelter, and jobs for the rural and urban poor as top priorities. However, hampered by severe revenue shortfalls induced, in part, by the economic crisis, his administration has been unable to introduce measures to assist the poor. Over 35 percent of the population of over 73 million have difficulty meeting basic nutritional and other needs. According to a July government survey, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. The richest 20 percent of families control more than 50 percent of the country's income, while the poorest 20 percent received less than 5 percent. Largely as a result of currency devaluation, annual per capita national income declined to $427 for the first 6 months of 1998.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Members of the security forces were responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and other physical abuse of suspects. Prison conditions are harsh and in some cases life threatening. According to the statistics of the Government's Commission on Human Rights (CHR), members of the police continued to be the leading abusers of human rights. Some abuses were committed by police and military personnel involved in illegal activities, including coerced protection, kidnaping gangs, drug syndicates, and illegal logging. In some cases, police authorities appear to sanction police brutality and killings tacitly as an expedient means to fight crime. The Government has taken few effective steps to reform the police, the military forces, or a court system that appears susceptible to the influence of the wealthy and powerful while not providing equal justice for others. There is a failure to prosecute many who break the law. However, President Estrada's Anti-Organized Crime Commission achieved progress in combating kidnaping rings. Like the security services and prosecutors, the judiciary is inefficient, lacks sufficient staff, paid poorly, and suffers from corruption. The courts are hobbled by backlogs and limited resources, and long delays in trials are common. There was a decrease in the violent displacement of urban area squatters to make way for development projects, but efforts to remove farmers for industrial, resort, or large-scale farming developments still led to disputes and human rights violations, including the killing of two members of an indigenous group.

An estimated 5 to 6 million citizens living abroad are disenfranchised because the Congress has not enacted an absentee voting law, 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 although the Mindanao peace process is addressing the latter problem in many communities. The Government has begun to implement 1997 legislation that significantly improved protection for the rights of indigenous people to land and their cultural identity. Rural poverty and family displacement worsened the persistent child labor problem, which the Government has addressed only partially.

The CHR, whose mission is to promote respect for human rights, further augmented the system of locality ("barangay") human rights officers who monitor local authorities and report complaints to regional CHR offices. It expanded the total number of such officers to over 8,000.

Communist and Muslim insurgent groups committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, kidnapings, torture, and detentions.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Police and military forces committed extrajudicial killings. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) reported 33 extrajudicial killings by members of the security forces in 1998, compared with 12 in 1997. The CHR, which includes killings by antigovernment insurgents in its totals, investigated 201 extrajudicial killings in 1998, compared with 254 in 1997.

In combating criminal rings, police personnel sometimes resorted to "salvaging" (summary execution of suspects). Police spokesmen later reportedly misrepresented these murders as the unavoidable result of an alleged exchange of gunfire with the suspects. During a hostage rescue attempt in March, police shot and killed a prisoner who was asleep (see Section 1.c.). According to a preliminary police investigation, members of the Manila police are suspected of killing 4 robbery suspects in custody in October. Prosecutors had not brought charges at year's end, although some officers involved were transferred.

The AFP continued its counterinsurgency campaign in Mindanao and parts of Luzon (see Section 1.g.). The CHR investigated the March killing of two members of an indigenous people's group, the B'laan, who occupied part of a Polomolok, Mindanao pineapple plantation, which they claimed as their ancestral domain. The Philippine Army's 601st infantry battalion forcibly removed 137 B'laan families from the land, allegedly on suspicion that they were cooperating with a Muslim insurgent group. After bombing and strafing the area, the AFP soldiers reportedly singled out and executed two B'laan community leaders who were active in the B'laans' land dispute with the plantation owners. In September the B'laan requested the CHR's help in returning to their homes, which the nearby community of Polomolok is helping to rebuild.

The Ecumenical Commission for Displaced Families and communities (ECDFC), while assisting the B'laans' relocation, helped exhume the bodies of the two executed persons, Jimmy Tuan and Jonathan Tuan. In defending the operation, AFP leaders alleged that they were pursuing a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officer, Tahir Alonto, who was allegedly the commander of an MILF "lost command" (a breakaway unit) operating in a region remote from the MILF's focus of operations in western Mindanao.

The CHR investigated a reported June 9 summary execution by AFP members of four young persons in a rural area in Dingalan, Aurora province. The victims were two young men (ages 17 and 19) and two girls (ages 14 and 16) who apparently were raped before their deaths. According to the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, the AFP's 56th infantry battalion shot the four young persons as suspected members of the insurgent New People's Army (NPA), although there was no evidence that the four were armed at the time. A fifth suspected NPA member captured while fishing in a nearby stream told the CHR that there was no exchange of fire and that he saw soldiers removing the pants of the young women before his guards took him away. The CHR found it suspicious the AFP unit burned the young women's personal effects, shot them several times in the pelvic area, and immediately had the bodies embalmed without contacting the victims' next of kin. Investigators found their bodies in a large clearing, raising questions about the AFP members' report that they sought to engage the soldiers in an exchange of fire in that location.

In October soldiers of the 1st Marine Battalion shot and killed Roberto Bornales, an organizer of a fishing community in Palawan province, claiming that Bornales fired on them in an insurgent ambush. According to the TFDP, Bornales' companion rejected the soldiers' account, indicating that they both were unarmed. A forensic examination showed that Bornales was shot twice in the back at close range.

The CHR investigated the AFP's July killing of two civilians in the Marilog district of Davao City in Mindanao. According to the Ecumenical Commission (ECDFC), AFP members of the 73rd infantry battalion fired into the victims' home on suspicion that the NPA was meeting with local indigenous tribal leaders there.

The TFDP reported one civilian death by crossfire in a military clash. According to the ECDFC, civilians suffered casualties resulting from clashes between the AFP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) (see Section 1.g.).

A court has yet to try the top police officials suspected of involvement in the 1995 killing of 11 criminal suspects from the "Kuratong Baleleng" gang. In May 1995, the Ombudsman, Aniano Desierto, recommended the filing of criminal charges against five top PNP officials. The case was delayed by the defendants' appeal to the Supreme Court to decide whether the anticorruption court, the Sandiganbayan, has jurisdiction and the appeal was still pending at year's end. After waiting more than 3 years for a trial, four of the five key witnesses for the prosecution have left a witness protection program. In August a young police official recanted his former testimony when he tired of the restrictions of the witness program within an army camp. Despite the accusations against them, President Estrada named one of the Kuratong Baleleng suspects, PNP Superintendent Panfilo Lacson, as head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission in August, while others have been promoted to more senior ranks. In 1997 the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Execution asked the Government for a report on the case, urging it to enforce the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In August Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas told the press it might be time for the Government to drop the case. According to an attorney for the remaining witness, security officials are pressuring this witness to leave the witness protection program.

Civilian militia units also were accused of extrajudicial killings. According to the CHR, paramilitary units were responsible for one killing in the first 3 months of 1998, and civilians and local (nonpolice) officials killed 13 persons. Often formed as security guard units for mining or plantation areas, members of these militias are often veterans of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUS). These militia forces remain active in many rural areas despite the AFP's announcement in March that the CAFGUS were disbanded. The ECDFC reported that a militia unit member killed a 13-year-old boy in January when he threw a grenade at a house during an effort to disperse persons from land claimed by a mining operation in Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte. In September security guards at a 9,900-acre orchard in Negros Occidental shot and killed three apparently unarmed men who were leaving the property after collecting spiders.

Police personnel supported some landowners' efforts to resolve rural land disputes by displacing farmers. According to the TFDP, the Mindoro Occidental police arrested and held 10 farmers in August on a fabricated charge of possessing illegal firearms. The landowner sought to evict these and other farmers who were due to obtain title to the land under the Agrarian Reform law. In July the owners' security guards reportedly shot and killed a farmer as he sought to enter the estate.

In November members of a Mindanao vigilante group linked to local landowners killed 2 members of the Manobo indigenous group and destroyed the homes of 30 families in a Manobo village in Bukidnon province. According to the TFDP, the landowners have sought to drive the Manobos from their land for several years.

The assailants who killed the head of the Catholic diocese of Sulu, Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, in 1997 have not been tried. Those persons initially arrested remain under detention, although human rights groups report that other prominent suspects remain at large.

AFP elements violated the cease-fire accord. An AFP unit attacked a group of 25 NPA members in Samar province in September, killing 5 of the insurgents.

Election related violence was widespread in the campaign period before the May national elections, though low compared with previous years. In spite of government efforts to ensure a peaceful vote, local political rivalries resulted in shootings and other violence. The Commission on Elections reported that 47 provincial or mayoral candidates, campaigners, or polling place staff were killed and 97 wounded. However, rival political party groups were known to claim NPA involvement to deflect charges against them.

There were periodic reports of incidents in which NPA members reportedly killed or wounded candidates or elections staff in the period prior to the May elections. NPA assailants reportedly fired on the car of Surigao del Sur governor Primo Murillo in early May, wounding members of his staff. NPA elements violated the cease-fire accord.

According to press reports, NPA units in Luzon and the Visayas sometimes attacked army or police patrols to obtain arms. About 40 NPA members attacked a PNP patrol in northern Samar province in July, killing 2 policemen and an army officer who was patrolling the area separately.

b. Disappearance

The CHR cited 10 cases of involuntary disappearance in 1998, compared with 15 disappearances in 1997. The TFDP reported two disappearances. The international NGO Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) also reported four cases of involuntary disappearance. (The FIND defines disappearance as taking place if the individual is missing for 48 hours; the TFDP uses 72 hours as its criterion.) The FIND documented the AFP's attempt to hide its involvement in the March deaths of two Mindanao indigenous group members killed in the wake of a land dispute in Polomolok near General Santos (see Section 1.a.). According to the FIND, the AFP buried the two in a shallow grave after executing them. Due to the efforts of NGO's, the National Bureau of Investigation exhumed and identified the bodies only 3 days later and established that they died of multiple gunshot wounds.

The courts and the police have failed to address complaints of victims' families concerning numerous disappearances in the 1980's. The FIND presented to the Government records of 1,635 documented cases of individuals considered victims of an officially arranged "disappearance." (According to Amnesty International, there were 759 disappearance cases under former President Marcos, 830 disappearances under former President Aquino and 46 under former president Ramos.) Although President Ramos appointed a committee in 1992 to look into responsibility for the many disappearances, the committee disbanded in July without ever functioning. FIND appealed for a return visit by the U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID), which last visited in 1990. Amnesty International in Manila has placed a top priority on supporting the pleas of the victims' families for a court hearing. Court inaction on these cases helps create a climate of impunity that undermines confidence in the justice system.

Kidnapings of members of ethnic communities remained a problem. Criminal syndicates and bandit elements linked to insurgent groups primarily targeted members of Filipino-Chinese families, although their victims also included Filipino business persons and some foreign managers (again mainly Chinese). According to the Chinese community group that monitors incidents that victims' families have chosen not to report, there were 66 kidnapings for ransom in the first 8 months of 1998, involving 118 victims. A total of over $2 million (91.7 million pesos) were paid as ransom. Thirty-four of these abductions took place in Manila and 22 in the Muslim area of Mindanao.

In December 1997, the Filipino-Chinese community in Manila closed shops and schools in a 1-day protest of the Government's failure to counter the kidnaping menace. The Filipino-Chinese community, which numbers perhaps 1 to 2 percent of the population but wields a major influence in the business sector, normally refuses to cooperate with the PNP authorities. According to officials, the community deeply distrusts PNP officials, whom they believe collude with the kidnap gangs. Observers believe that police involvement is indicated by the kidnapers' frequent use of sophisticated communications equipment and high-powered weapons.

Along with Manila, the city of Cotabato in Mindanao was a frequent site of kidnapings. Its proximity to areas controlled by the insurgent Muslim force, the MILF, has made it especially vulnerable to lawless elements. Although AFP leaders have charged the MILF with seeking ransom funds and using the kidnapings as a "show of force," observers believed that many kidnapings were carried out by various gangs, many of which were composed of former insurgents or police and army veterans.

Reflecting the scope of such gangs, a German businessman, kidnaped by a gang in Zamboanga del Norte in September 1997, was held by a large bandit group until late December 1997 when a ransom was paid. He indicated that at least 70 persons were involved as he was moved from place to place.

President Estrada has given top priority to apprehending kidnapers as part of his emphasis on "law and order."

In late 1998, his Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission arrested members of some major rings, including a few active or former police officers.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading

Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, and evidence obtained through its use is legally inadmissible in court; however, members of the security forces and police continued to use torture and otherwise abuse suspects and detainees. The CHR and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) provide the police with human rights training, including primers on the rights of suspects. However, such training is voluntary and dependent on the DILG's uncertain budget allocation. Police awareness of the rights of those in custody remains poor.

The CHR reported 2 cases of torture of suspects while in official custody in 1998; the TFDP reported 6 cases for the year, compared with 11 reported in 1997.

Attorneys in legal reform and public defender groups identify the most common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation as mauling, slapping, hitting with clubs, and poking defendants with guns. Police also reportedly used electric shocks to extort confessions. There were no 1998 reports of interrogation abuses involving cellophane bags over a victim's head or the use of electric shock to the genitals. Nor were there reports that the police burned or dragged suspects behind cars to force confessions.

AFP members raped and killed four youths in June (see Section 1.a.).

Prison conditions are harsh and life threatening. Provincial jails and prisons are overcrowded, have limited exercise and sanitary facilities, and provide prisoners with an inadequate diet. Administrators reportedly budget a daily subsistence allowance of about $0.60 (25 pesos). Following a 1990-96 CHR study on 6,939 jail facilities, the CHR pointed to the problem of women and children being held in facilities not fully segregated from the male inmates.

Guards often 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. However, some prominent prisoners and celebrities were treated far better. A provincial governor held on suspicion of murder was able to run successfully for reelection in May from within his cell through his privileged use of a cellular phone and other communication equipment. He also enjoyed a short furlough to celebrate his birthday in his home province. In May an incumbent congressman was reelected while serving a life sentence following his 1997 conviction for rape.

Official corruption is a serious problem in the prison system. Jail administrators reportedly delegate authority in order to maintain order to senior inmates. Favored inmates reportedly enjoy access to outside contacts, enabling them to trade in prostitution and drugs within the jail walls.

Conditions in the provincial jails were often as Spartan and overcrowded as in Manila. Inmates depended on their families for food because of the insufficient subsistence allowance. According to the penal authorities, there were over 20,000 detainees held in regional jails. Many were there at the discretion of local law enforcement authorities without benefit of a trial. Through the efforts of the CHR, 627 prisoners and detainees were released between 1988 and 1996 because they had been detained beyond the sentences imposed, or because the CHR helped obtain their paroles or pardons. The CHR study found that a major cause for congestion in jails was that those awaiting trial lacked the funds to post bail and remained in lengthy pretrial detention.

Harsh prison conditions helped spark inmate protests at a government penal colony in Dapecol, Davao province in March. Prisoners protested living quarters and food that the Regional CHR Director described as belonging in a "pig-sty." According to the CHR, the prison director gave authority to senior inmates to administer rules, resulting in a "reign of terror." Eight prisoners sought to force reforms through taking hostages. Despite progress over 3 days of negotiations, the Presidential Assistant for Mindanao decided to have police attempt an armed rescue of the five hostages. The eight prisoners and a female prison counselor were killed and the other four hostages were wounded. The CHR Regional Director, who had assisted in the negotiations, faulted the police methods and timing. A news photograph disclosed that one prisoner was shot while asleep on a cot. The Justice Secretary dismissed the Penal Colony Director. (NGO's had charged the same director with conspiracy in the 1997 murder of a lay church worker at the penal colony.)

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, police continued arbitrarily to arrest and detain citizens, although less frequently than in the previous year.

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 for which the arrest was made. The CHR listed 59 cases of illegal arrest and detention in 1998, compared with 104 in 1997. The TFDP found that 50 persons were arrested illegally in 1998, compared with 81 in the first 10 months of 1997.

The NPA and the MILF were 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."

Members of the MILF tried two persons on criminal charges in a Muslim area of Mindanao in October. Reflecting the MILF's claim to recognition as an independent state in areas it controls, MILF spokesmen asserted that their self-proclaimed courts have criminal jurisdiction.

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. Personal ties undermine the commitment of some government institutions to ensuring due process and equal justice, resulting in impunity for those who commit offenses but are rich and influential.

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 outside the formal court system. The Sandiganbayan, the Government's anticorruption court, hears criminal cases of misconduct brought against officials.

The Constitution provides that those accused of crimes be informed of the 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 convictions. The authorities generally respect the right of defendants to be represented by a lawyer although poverty often inhibits a defendant's access to attorneys. There is no jury system under the law; all cases are heard by judges.

According to the NGO Alterlaw, the use of personal connections, patronage, influence peddling, and bribery are common. The judicial process is perceived as biased in favor of the rich and influential, and there are few instances of the police investigating and the courts trying white collar criminals. 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, and such practices appear to be firmly entrenched in the culture.

The pace of justice is slow. The court system is unable to assure detained persons expeditious trials. There is a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. A leading court administrator indicated that 692 positions for judges remained vacant in 1998 for lack of qualified applicants. Many vacancies were in provincial capitals unattractive to jurists. In other cases, judges' salaries were considered too low compared with other opportunities. Further impeding justice was a shortage of prosecutors. A Justice Department official in charge of nationwide prosecutors acknowledged at a human rights seminar that he lacked sufficient resources to hire the prosecutors needed for the nationwide case load. He also acknowledged that prosecutors are susceptible to corruption because of their low salaries.

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. Prosecutors often declined to prosecute certain types of cases. Officials in the Labor and Social Welfare Departments complain that prosecutors generally fail to follow up on cases involving child labor violations (see Section 6.d.).

The CHR reported in 1997 that only 18 percent of the human rights cases that it referred to courts and other government agencies were resolved, and that the courts dismissed 76 percent of the few cases that went to trial. The CHR had to suspend its 1997 agreement for adding Justice Department prosecutors to its staff because of a lack of funds and available prosecutors.

An NGO representing over 400 families of crime victims (Crusade Against Violence--CAV) reported some success in providing families with legal advice, monitoring court processes and spurring prosecutors to address cases despite the efforts of local crime lords or officials to hinder proceedings.

Attorneys involved in prominent human rights cases expressed concern over attempts to intimidate them. Those assisting the witnesses in the "Kuratong Baleleng" case (see Section 1.a.) indicate that both they and some prosecutors in the Ombudsman's Office faced pressures, including surveillance and telephone threats. The attorneys assisting in the preparation of the prosecution of AFP officials accused of responsibility for the murder of a prominent student leader in the 1980's expressed concern over a burglary of their law office and telephone threats.

The victims claiming indemnification for alleged Marcos-era human rights abuses await the outcome of either a Philippine court case or a negotiated settlement among the claimants (the Government, the Marcos family, and victims). The victims' attorneys seek to have a local court enforce the findings of foreign courts that the Government share with the victims money recovered from Swiss bank accounts held by the Marcos family. The court has not yet made a finding. President Estrada proposed in August that the case be resolved through an agreement among the victims, the Government and the Marcos family to share the over $500 million that the Swiss Supreme Court ordered Swiss banks to transfer to an escrow account in the Philippines in 1998. The Swiss minimum conditions for the fund's release are either a Philippine court judgment that the Marcos deposits in Switzerland were "ill-gotten wealth" or a mutual agreement similar to that President Estrada suggested. In both cases, the Government is obliged to submit a report to the Swiss Government that human rights victims are to be duly indemnified before the Swiss authorities can release the money.

Amnesty International (AI) questioned the apparent unfairness in many of the court proceedings that result in death sentences, since the judicial system does not ensure the rights of defendants to due process and legal representation. At times defendants in such cases had no lawyers to assist them when they were arrested, indicted, and brought to trial.

In 1995 the Government offered an 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 had to have been committed in pursuit of political beliefs; in the case 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 such as extrajudicial killings, massacres, torture, and rape 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 NAC processed and oversaw the release of 41 political prisoners in 1995 and 1996. None has been released since.

The NPA "tries" civilians and local politicians for "crimes against the people" in informal courts. Defendants in such trials are sometimes tortured or summarily executed. Former leaders of the Communist Party have been at particular risk in "people's court" trials.

Members of the MILF tried two persons on criminal charges in a Muslim area of Mindanao in October, reflecting the MILF claim that its self-proclaimed courts have criminal jurisdiction.

The TFDP reported that there were 147 political prisoners at year's end, compared with 190 political prisoners held at the end of 1997. The Government disputes charges that it holds political prisoners, contending that those held for allegedly political reasons really were imprisoned for common crimes. Frequently those political prisoners counted by the TFDP were charged with illegal possession of firearms. The TFDP claims that the authorities deliberately "criminalized" the political offender cases in order to strip political prisoners of public sympathy. In the first half of 1998, TDFP investigations indicated that there were 12 new illegal arrests for political reasons (compared with 87 during the same period in 1997). During peace talks, the Government and the exiled leaders of the Communist National Democratic Front discussed the release of prisoners held for political crimes, although the Government denies that it holds prisoners on these grounds. Nevertheless, according to the CHR, the Government finds some basis to release periodically some of the prisoners that the TFDP considers are held for political reasons. President Ramos released 14 such persons in early 1998 on humanitarian grounds in response to an appeal for those in poor health.

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

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

According to CHR officials, there was a decrease in the displacement of families from their homes to make way for infrastructure and commercial developments. Following critical media reports and international attention on the forced demolitions of homes of urban "squatters" in 1997, both the central and local governments appeared to refrain from dislodging squatters without their consent to move to other housing. Having campaigned as the "propoor" candidate President Estrada sought to avoid confrontations with squatter communities. However, the Government had difficulty in implementing the 1992 housing law, which provides for consultation, compensation, and substitute housing for the squatter families affected by removal plans.

The major incidents of forced removals generally involved land disputes in rural areas. In Mindanao AFP forces killed two members of an indigenous group, and in Mindoro Occidental owners' security guards reportedly shot and killed a farmer (see Section 1.a.). Landowners in Sumilao, Bukidnon province continued to block entry of members of the Higaonon indigenous group, who claimed 355 hectares of farm land the landowners seek to develop. Although President Ramos personally brokered a land agreement between the two parties in late 1997 following the deaths of three Higaonons, the case remains unresolved, and lengthy court appeals by the landowners continued. There were periodic clashes between real estate development security guards and farmers claiming the land in Hacienda Looc in Batangas province south of Manila. Approximately 1,200 farmers and fishermen have protested the development of the land into a resort area, resisting heavy pressure from local authorities, police, and security guards to abandon their claim to the land.

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

Despite a September 1996 peace agreement between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), there were periodic AFP clashes with the remaining Islamic insurgent group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). These military operations continued to inflict hardship on civilians. Most of the fighting took place in western Mindanao provinces, particularly North Cotobato, Maguindanao, Zamboanga del Norte, and Basilan.

Displaced families fear being casualties in artillery exchanges or bombing exercises near their areas of residence. According to the Ecumenical Commission for Displaced Families and Communities, 19 incidents of armed clashes in Mindanao and Basilan Island displaced an estimated 7,224 families or about 43,000 persons in 1998. According to the TFDP, two civilians were killed as the result of military crossfire and others were killed by AFP forces (see Section 1.a.). The AFP's operation in the Marilog District of Davao City in Mindanao forced 400 Marilog families to flee. (see Section 1.a.).

Although neither side appears to target civilian populations or restrict relief supplies, there were periodic food shortages associated with the large number of displaced families in the army's clashes with the MILF.

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.

The Philippine Press Institute (PPI) in Manila is active in helping investigate cases of harassment of journalists. It continued a campaign to reopen the police investigation into the 1997 murder of Manila journalist Danny Hernandez, who reported on large Manila area drug rings.

Three Mindanao radio broadcasters were killed, possibly to silence their investigative reporting. In February Odilon Mallari, employed by a Roman Catholic radio station in General Santos City, was killed by two assailants. Two NPA insurgents were arrested. In March Rey Bancairin, a radio commentator in Zamboanga City, was shot and killed by two unidentified men inside his broadcasting studio. In April Nelson Catipay, an investigative reporter for a Cotabato city station, was shot and killed by an assailant while returning home from work. However, in all three cases, the Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines believes that the assailants may have had motives unrelated to the broadcasters' professional activities and, therefore, did not issue any protests.

The PPI favors the repeal of legislation banning political advertising in the media. The PPI believes that the total ban, enacted in the interest of fairness, favors incumbents and deprives new candidates of the opportunity to make their views known.

There appears to be no invasive use of censorship although there is a government-appointed Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). In 1997 the Government succeeded in delaying the release of a film depicting the hardships and alleged rape of an overseas Filipino 14-year-old girl working illegally in a household in the Middle East. Officials persuaded the film company to withhold the film on the grounds that its content could affect sensitive bilateral relations.

Movie producers find that films containing sexually explicit scenes reach audiences despite the ostensible MTRCB ban on them. Although an officially sanctioned version of the film may be edited, film distributors find that they can prevail on MTRCB inspectors to overlook the screening of uncut versions in many cinemas. The MTRCB imposes a classification system rating violence or sexual content on television broadcasters, requiring entertainment programs to meet its criteria. It may require a programmer to edit scenes if they do not meet MTRCB standards. Under President Estrada's administration, in August the MTRCB sought to extend its classification authority over news programs. However, the Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines protested the attempt, and the MTRCB was considering the group's appeal at year's end.

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 place 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 to areas where they face personal risk. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) seeks to limit departures for work abroad to only those whom the POEA certifies as qualified for the jobs. An estimated 5 to 6 million Filipinos work overseas and remit money home, which amounts to nearly over 10 percent of the gross national product.

There is no comprehensive legislation that provides for granting refugee/asylee status in accordance with the provisions of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. However, in March the Government issued a regulation forming a "Refugee Unit" in the Department of Justice to determine whether asylum seekers qualify as refugees. This measure implemented many of the basic provisions of the 1951 U.N. Convention. The Government continued to allow approximately 1,400 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 350 of these persons regularly reside in the Vietnamese village in Palawan, while the remainder live in major urban areas.

The Government continued to encourage voluntary repatriation of these asylum seekers and has ruled out forcible repatriation. There is significant government and nongovernment support (particularly from the Catholic Church) for allowing those asylum seekers who do not wish to repatriate and are ineligible for resettlement in other countries to remain in the country 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. However, Congress has yet to enact a system for absentee voting, as required by the Constitution. This provision affects an estimated 5 million potential voters or about 10 percent of the electorate, most of whom are expatriates.

An estimated 80 percent of registered voters participated in the 1998 national and local elections. President Estrada was elected by a wide margin, and his party won a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Despite widespread concern over possible fraud that could have discredited the election results, the 1998 elections resulted in a smooth transition to a new administration. Nevertheless, the hand-counting of millions of paper ballots delayed the public knowledge of results and provided opportunities for fraud.

In 1997 a Senate Electoral Tribunal concluded that vote tampering known as "Dagdag-Bawas" (literally "Addition-Subtraction") deprived a Senate candidate of his seat in the 1995 by-election. Despite this finding, the candidate who won through fraud was not replaced. A senior official of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) at the time, Commissioner Regalado Maambong, stated that his Commission was powerless to prevent such cheating. He indicated that since the system allowed local officials to appoint or influence election precinct administrators, it was impossible for the Commission to police the nationwide system and assure its integrity.

The May election ballots included for the first time a "party list" option in an effort to provide more seats to marginal groups from social sectors that do not normally send members to the Congress. A party that received a sufficient percentage of votes received a seat in the lower House. The election regulations limited each party to a maximum of three seats. However, widespread voter confusion about how to use the "party list" ballot resulted in fewer than half of the intended seats being awarded. Few socially marginalized groups won seats. Those elected declared their intention to amend the "party list" law, in order to facilitate the election of sectoral representatives in the next election.

The Government sought through a peace process to include dissident groups within the political process. In September 1996, there was a significant peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF leader, Nur Misuari, was elected governor of the four-province Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao shortly after the peace agreement. The Government is continuing talks with a smaller insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Government continued periodic "peace process" talks with the leadership in exile of the communist National Democratic Front (NDF), which coordinates with its armed guerrilla group, the New People's Army (NPA). In March after a 2-year impasse, the Government and the NDF succeeded in reaching agreement on the text of a "Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law," and President Estrada's administration entered talks on implementing it in late 1998. The Agreement sets a framework for both sides to address human rights violations related to insurgent activities.

The leftist armed insurgency is divided. A faction rejecting the NDF leadership, the Revolutionary People's Army, has gained a strong foothold on the economically troubled province of Negros Occidental, where it seeks further armed resistance rather than involvement in the Government's peace process.

There are no restrictions in law or practice on participation by women and minorities in politics. Two women head Cabinet departments, 4 of 23 senators are women, and 25 of 218 elected members of the House are women.

Muslim leaders appealed for a constitutional change to elect senators by region. Along with many other citizens, they argue that the current method of election from a nationwide list favors the established political figures from the Manila area. There are no Muslim senators, and no members of President Estrada's Cabinet are Muslim. However, the House of Representatives has nine Muslim members.

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

A wide variety of human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Many government officials, including those of the CHR, are responsive to their views. The Department of Foreign Affairs arranged for a symposium on human rights with NGO group participation in the context of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Human rights groups are able to assemble peacefully and protest human rights violations, for example, protesting against leaders of the Burmese Government during their official visits to Manila.

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), a leading NGO network, effectively monitors human rights problems and seeks redress through its contacts with government agencies, the Congress and the Commission on Human Rights. Human rights activists continued to encounter minor harassment, which largely appears to be committed by local military or police.

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. 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 limited 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 Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) established temporary shelters to protect female victims from further harm and high risk situations. In the first 6 months of 1998, the DSWD's Women's Bureau assisted in 1,801 cases of battered or physically abused women. Both the DSWD and the PNP maintain a Women's Help Desk to protect women and encourage the reporting of crimes. Their role was strengthened by the appointment of Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the Secretary of DSWD on June 30. She gave women's issues a high public profile in her first months in office. PNP stations include female as well as male officers who, with help from NGO's, receive gender sensitivity training for dealing with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence.

Rape continues to be a major problem, as the number of rape cases reported to the police has risen by about 16 percent annually since 1992. The PNP reported 2,913 cases in 1997 and 1,510 cases in the first 6 months of 1998. In September 1997, Congress enacted a major legislative reform, classifying rape as a crime against a person instead of as a crime against chastity, which had been punishable only under the Civil Code. Women no longer have to prove that they are either virgins or not promiscuous in order to claim in court that they were raped.

As with battering, government officials attributed the increase in reported rape to changing attitudes. In a widely publicized 1997 case, an 11-year-old girl charged a congressman with rape. Reflecting intense media coverage and greater sensitivity to the crime among officials, a Manila court convicted the congressman and sentenced him to life imprisonment in late December 1997.

Women's groups believe that the death penalty, which was restored in 1993, sometimes inhibits victims from pressing charges. Men convicted for rape constitute over half of the more than 600 persons who have received death sentences since the penalty was restored.

Many women suffer exposure to violence through their recruitment (often through deception) into prostitution. Prostitution remains illegal, but widespread. A 1998 International Labor Organization (ILO) study estimated that 500,000 women are engaged in prostitution. While penalties for the offense are light, detained prostitutes are subjected to administrative indignities. Women's groups in 1997 called for legal action directed against local officials who condone a climate of impunity for those who exploit prostitutes--both the "entertainment club" employers and their clients. They were critical of highly publicized official campaigns to close clubs and brothels, because such tactics fail to rescue young women from the abuse. A few days after such raids, the offending establishments are usually back in business.

In August the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported its rescue of 1,091 victims of illicit recruitment who were trapped in prostitution. DSWD officials noted that the number failed to reflect the "true state of prostitution in the country" since it reflected only those women who obtained temporary shelter and counseling through the DSWD and local governments. NGO's argue that the Government first must address the abuses of dislocation and homelessness in order to address genuinely the problem of women's exposure to the structural violence inherent in prostitution. Hotel and travel industry leaders have pledged to cooperate with a code endorsed by international tourism groups to stop "sex tourism."

Many women seek employment overseas and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unethical recruiters who promise attractive jobs or, in some cases, arrange marriages with foreign men. Some end up working as prostitutes or suffering 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 are the principal attractions. 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. However, NGO's believe that these measures have not been adequate since traffickers are numerous and remain effective in luring women with promises of lucrative overseas contracts.

Sexual harassment was also a problem. A 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. A Catholic Church study of conditions for female workers in one "special economic zone" indicated that sexual harassment by managers was common there. The women are often in a vulnerable position. Most are economic migrants who are required to work long hours and have no independent workers organization that could help them file complaints.

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. The Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, under the Office of the President, seeks to coordinate programs for women. The Commission works closely with many NGO's, including the 10-million-member National Council of Women in the Philippines. The Department of Labor and Employment upgraded its programs in support of women, having formed a new Bureau of Women and Young Children in 1997 to advocate major programs. In December 1997, an Asian Development Bank study found that women had made important gains towards gender equity. More women than men enter secondary and tertiary education.

However, the 1998 economic crisis had a particular impact on women, partially reversing some recent employment gains. Unemployment rates among women are consistently higher than those among men. Based on 1998 statistics, 10.2 million women were employed while 17.4 million men had formal jobs, although the number in the labor force was roughly equal for both sexes. A 1998 ILO study concluded that women continue to have a subordinate position in the home and in society.

Except for government service and jobs in government-owned or controlled corporations, women faced discrimination in employment. On average, a woman's salary was about 47 percent of her male counterpart's. Joblessness and poverty most affected the lot of women, as reflected in their unemployment rate of about 9 percent in January, compared with a rate for men of about 7 percent. The continuing economic crisis was expected to lead to a widening in this employment gap.

Church opposition to divorce in this largely Catholic nation is strong. However, changes in the Legal Code have made marriage annulment fairly easy and increasingly common. However, the legal cost precluded this option for many women. The practice of "unofficial divorce" (permanent separation) was common among lower income families; in these cases the wife usually was left with the children, and the husband provided little or no financial support.

Children

Several government agencies have programs devoted to the education, welfare, and development of children. Nevertheless, children faced serious problems in their development. Family poverty forces many school dropouts. Only about 65 percent of children complete the 6th grade. As the grade level goes up, the number of children who stay in school continues to decline. Public primary and secondary schools are free of tuition charges, but poor families are unable to meet numerous peripheral costs for uniforms, school supplies, shoes, and transportation. In a 1998 study, the Asian Development Bank reported an apparent growing inequity in the opportunity for an education as public spending per pupil declines. In the 1980's, public spending covered 80 percent of the cost of elementary education; however, this share declined to only 69 percent by the mid-1990's.

Widespread poverty forces many young children to work. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) worked with the ILO and NGO's to address problems identified in a landmark 1996 study supported by the ILO that showed widespread child labor. According to UNICEF and ILO studies, over 2 million children were exposed to hazardous working environments (e.g., in quarries, mines, and at docksides) in order to earn their living. Child trafficking by illegal recruiters often brought children from poor rural areas to low-paying jobs in cities. In August DOLE officials apprehended a foreign employer who lured children from distant provinces to work in a "sweatshop" garment factory in Tarlac province (see Section 6.d.).

The Government's Department of Social Welfare and Development reported in 1997 that there were over 50,000 street children in Manila and over 100,000 nationwide. Welfare officials believe that the number is increasing, in view of widespread unemployment in rural areas. Reportedly many of these children are abandoned, with no family support, and engage in scavenging or begging. According to another study, the number of street children nationally is greater if they are defined as those who work and live in the streets and return to their families only occasionally. Street begging and truancy are common in Manila and other large cities, and children frequently are seen as street vendors amidst the chaotic traffic of Manila.

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. President Ramos signed landmark legislation in October, which created a family court system to expedite juvenile and domestic relations cases. This separate court helps address a problem of traditional societal values that influenced less specialized courts to regard children as extensions and property of the parents and to favor parental authority over the rights of a child.

Greater public awareness eroded traditional reticence to report abuses against children. In the first half of 1998, DSWD offices cared for 724 children who were the victims of rape. The problem of foreign pedophiles continued to receive significant press coverage. The Government followed a tough policy of seeking the prosecution of pedophiles, including those who returned to their homes abroad after a "sex tourism" visit. More than 50 suspected foreign pedophiles have been arrested over the last 3 years.

Despite government efforts at law enforcement and expanded children's programs, there are an estimated 60,000 children involved in the commercial sex industry according to a 1996 UNICEF study. This marks an increase over the estimated 20,000 involved in prostitution in a 1987 UNICEF study. The same studies showed that the children in the "entertainment industry" worked long, odd hours (10 to 12 hours), starting in the evening until early morning. They came from families with unemployed or irregularly employed parents.

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 that government programs are palliative rather than focused on reintegration. Senator Orlando Mercado, who authored legislation for the disabled, estimated in 1997 that only about 2 percent of an estimated 3.5 million disabled citizens received access to services.

Indigenous people

Indigenous people live throughout the Philippines but primarily in the mountainous areas of northern and central Luzon and Mindanao. They account for about 18 percent of the national 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. Because they inhabit mountainous areas also favored by guerrillas, indigenous people suffer disproportionately from counterinsurgency operations. In August a Higaonon tribal leader in northern Mindanao expressed concern that, despite repeated peace pacts, the AFP conducts renewed military operations against Higaonon groups each time the regional commander changes. He appealed for a withdrawal of AFP troops from his region. Indigenous children suffer from lack of basic services, health, and education.

In October 1997, President Ramos signed an Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act, which was intended to implement constitutional provisions to protect indigenous people. The law established a National Commission of Indigenous People staffed by tribal members empowered to award certificates of title to lands claimed by the over 12 million native people. It awards "ancestral domain lands" on the basis of communal rather than individual ownership, thus impeding sale of the lands by tribal leaders. The law also requires a process of "informed" consultation and written consent by the indigenous group to allow mining on tribal lands. The law also assigns the indigenous groups with a responsibility to preserve forest, watershed and biodiversity areas in their domains from inappropriate development. However, the Government has been slow to implement the legislation, as it faces strong opposition from mining and agribusiness interests. Attorneys for an indigenous people's advocacy group warned that, like much social legislation, the new law could be a "dead letter" if weakly implemented.

Other measures have affected indigenous communities in adverse ways. For example, development of mineral and water resources infringed on their lands and rights. The Mining Act of 1995 continued a legislative trend promoting mining operations, hydroelectric dams, and other large-scale projects that force indigenous people to relocate and abandon farming and hunting land used for generations.

There were numerous cases in which indigenous people faced legal threats to their claims to ancestral lands from developers, mining interests, and local political interests. The Higaonon people in Mindanao continue to be deprived of portions of their ancestral land by a powerful local landowning family, which enforced their removal through a violent demolition conducted by the PNP and private security forces in 1997 (see Section 1.a.). The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines expressed strong concern over the effects of current and planned large-scale mining on the livelihood of the many indigenous people of Mindanao. The Bishop of Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur, criticized both the Rio Tinto Zinc Company and local officials for ignoring the opposition of the Subanen tribe (250,000 members) to the mining planned for their lands. In July the governor of Mountain province in Luzon asked the Government to deny mining company applications due to concern about their impact on the livelihood and customs of the indigenous people in the area, the Kankanaeys, Bontoc, and Kalinga tribes. In August NPA rebels cooperating with tribal leaders ambushed an AFP platoon in the Bontoc region and killed two soldiers. Local officials warn of further hostilities if the Government approves mining in the area.

Religious MinoritiesAbout 5 million Muslims, who constitute 7 percent of the population, reside principally in Mindanao and nearby islands, and are the largest single minority group in the country. Historically they have been alienated from the dominant Christian majority, and government efforts to integrate Muslims into the political and economic fabric of the country met with only limited success. The national 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 claimed that they continue to be underrepresented in senior civilian and military positions. A 1998 Asian Development Bank study noted that the Muslim provinces in Mindanao, lag behind the rest of the island in almost all aspects of socioeconomic development.

There was progress in improving Christian-Muslim relations following a September 1996 government agreement with the insurgent MNLF. In accordance with the agreement, a Southern Philippines Council on Peace and Development (SPCPD) was established to coordinate economic growth in 14 provinces in Mindanao and MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari became its chair. Shortly thereafter Misuari also was elected governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, 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. The accord also provided for the integration of MNLF fighters into the armed forces and police. A promised 1999 plebiscite to create autonomy for an expanded Islamic region still requires enabling legislation.

This initiative eased suspicions between Christians and Muslims, setting the stage for cooperation and economic growth. However, progress has been halting. Although the agreement has brought somewhat more regional stability, the Muslim provinces continue to be the site of intermittent military clashes with insurgent MILF forces, resulting in family displacements and economic problems.

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. Several trade union confederations entered candidates in the country's first election using a "party list" ballot in May, which was meant to provide congressional seats to a "sectoral" group like labor. However, the entry of many rival labor candidates and confusion over the voting process resulted in only two seats being won by a labor group (a decline from the number of labor seats held under a presidential appointment system in the last Congress.) At year's end, the Commission on Elections was studying whether to award further seats through a change of vote threshold rules.

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 Labor Secretary can intervene in some labor disputes by "assuming jurisdiction" and mandating a settlement. The Secretary can exercise this authority if he views the industry involved in the strike as "vital to national security." In June the Labor Secretary intervened on this basis in a strike by Philippine Airlines (PAL) pilots, ordering a return to work in a few days. The pilots did not return by the deadline, claiming that they did not receive the "return to work" order. PAL management fired all 620 pilots, claiming they were engaged in an illegal strike. The National Labor Relations Commission dismissed a pilots' complaint, but the pilots' union appealed the dismissal to the Supreme Court.

In February 1995, the ILO Committee of Experts noted that certain amendments have been proposed to legislation that the Committee previously had 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, and by some restrictions on the right to organize and form a bargaining unit in which the restrictions conflict with ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.

Employers' lengthy legal appeals hamper workers' ability to organize trade unions. Both labor and employers groups complained that the Supreme Court further slowed the process in September by requiring a court of appeals to review all National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) cases under appeal before the Supreme Court will take jurisdiction. In late 1997, the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association expressed concern that the Government still had failed to ensure a certification election at the Mitsumi electronics plant near Cebu, although the workers first filed a petition for certification 4 years previously. The Government responded to earlier ILO inquiries by stating that it would facilitate a new election to address the complaint that the employer disrupted the 1994 attempt. However, no election took place during the year. The Mitsumi Company filed an appeal of the Labor Secretary's order for a new election.

Union leaders and NGO's express concern that workers involved in union activity face intimidation tactics by management, including physical assaults by security guards. According to the TFDP, security guards broke up the picket line of striking bus company workers in September, injuring 20 strikers with baton blows. Reportedly the guards fired gunshots to drive away the workers. In late 1997, the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association expressed concern about the violent dispersal of pickets and the brief police detention of union leaders during a 1995 strike at the Telefunken Semiconductor plant near Manila. The management ignored repeated the DOLE Secretary's orders to reinstate workers fired for their strike decision. The company has not reinstated the workers, although it has been 3 years since the DOLE order was issued. In March union members picketing a large plywood factory of Picop Resources in Surigao del Sur were injured when plant guards beat them. In September workers at the Filipino Telephone Corporation in Manila alleged that company security guards fired shots into the air to intimidate picketing employees.

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 International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (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 about 8 percent of the total work force of 31.2 million, fewer than 500,000 workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Despite union opposition, the DOLE Secretary issued a change in rules on "labor only" subcontracting in 1997, which effectively broadened the definition of industries that legally may use part-time, rotating staff. Unions have argued that this practice allows unscrupulous employers to use subcontractors to evade obligations to their employees and to break unions. In August the DOLE reported a 51 percent increase since 1994 in the number of firms (primarily large employers) that use "contractual" labor. The DOLE Secretary expressed concern in July about firms that used the economic crisis as a pretext for replacing regular workers with "contractuals."

Some employers intimidated workers trying to form a union with threats of firing or factory closure. In April guards employed by the management of a prominent Manila hotel shoved and intimidated hotel workers who picketed after the management refused to accept the results of a union certification election and engaged in lengthy legal delays.

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.

The NCMB reported 92 strikes in 1998, compared with 91 strikes the previous year. The workdays lost to strikes decreased to 557,000 in 1998, compared with 673,000 in 1997.

Labor law is uniform throughout the country, including the industrial zones where tax benefits encourage the growth of export industries. However, local political leaders and officials governing these "special economic zones" (SEZ's) tried to frustrate union organizing efforts by maintaining "union free/strike free" policies." A conflict over interpretation of the SEZ law's provisions for labor inspection creates further obstacles to enforcement of workers' rights to organize. Despite DOLE objections, SEZ local directors claim authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones' privileges intended by Congress. Hiring often is controlled tightly through "SEZ labor centers" where political ties to local figures often played a role in gaining job eligibility. In spite of sporadic labor unrest and some organizing efforts, union successes in the SEZ's have been few and marginal. Some mainstream unions avoid a major unionizing effort in the lower-wage SEZ industries (e.g., the garment industry) as unpromising. They do so in light of both the organizers' restricted access to the closely guarded gates of many zones and the rapid turnover of the young, female staff working on short-term contracts in the zones' many electronics and garment factories.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

Forced and bonded labor by children is prohibited, however, there were reports of its use. The DOLE is targeting for prosecution the employment of underage workers as household domestics. Recruiters bring girls between the ages of 13 and 17 to work in Manila or Cebu homes under terms that involve a "loan" advanced to their parents that the children are obliged to pay through their work. Over 300,000 children 17 years of age and below work as family domestics in urban centers. NGO's report that "piggeries" in Bulacan province near Manila employ underage workers and restrict them from leaving the breeding farms.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under 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 to the integrity of the production. 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 dangerous 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.

There are few child labor violations in the formal manufacturing sector. However, children are employed on the docks of some Mindanao and Visayan ports by labor contractors. Crews of over 100 children unload bulk cargo ships, bringing heavy bags of cement or fertilizer from freighter holds. Working at a piece rate, the children earn far less than adults would demand for the same work even though they are exposed to harmful dust and chemicals in the ships' holds. An August investigative report documented the employment of children aboard Palawan coastal fishing vessels as divers in a dangerous form of coral reef fishing, in which they are obliged to be submerged for long and repeated periods. In Mindanao plantations raising bananas for export frequently use children as day laborers in trimming and fertilizing plants and clearing irrigation ditches.

A priority concern for the DOLE is the condition of underage agricultural workers in situations in which children join their parents in piecework labor on sugar plantations. Many work in order to help their parents repay loans to planters; parents often have difficulty with food and shelter during the long "dead season" in sugar farming.

The DOLE and other agencies have worked closely with UNICEF and the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) to reduce violations of child labor laws. The DOLE's approach is to work with local NGO's to educate the community on the negative aspects of child labor, while providing counseling and other outlets for children. It has enlisted the Department of Education, Culture, and Sport in an interagency effort to put children back in school. Only a few child labor cases have resulted in court action. In March the DOLE's cooperation with prosecutors succeeded in obtaining the first conviction under 1993 legislation. A Manila area court convicted a night club owner for employing underage "entertainers."

The law prohibits forced and bonded labor by children; however, despite government enforcement efforts, there were reports of its use. (see Section 6.c.)

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Tripartite regional wage boards set minimum wages. The latest round of wage increases occurred in late 1997 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 about $5.00 (198 pesos) per day. With this pay level, at least 2 family members would have to work full-time to support a family of 6 above the level of the Government's minimum daily cost of living for the Manila area. Large numbers of workers do not receive the minimum wage set for their area.

Regional wage board 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.

Violation of minimum wage standards was common. Many firms hired employees at subminimum apprentice rates, although no approved training was entailed in their production line work. A study of the largest export zone showed that many workers received less than the minimum wage. DOLE officials estimate a 30 to 40 percent rate of noncompliance with the minimum wage requirement, and acknowledge that the shortage of inspectors makes the law difficult to enforce. 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. However, there is no legal limit on the number of overtime hours an employer may require. Enforcement of workweek hours is managed through periodic inspections by the DOLE.

Several NGO's seek to protect the rights of the country's over 5 million overseas workers. The Government uses financial sanctions and criminal charges against unfair practices by Philippine recruiting agencies. Although the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) has registered and supervised domestic recruiters' practices successfully, the Government largely is unable to ensure workers' protections overseas. It seeks cooperation from receiving countries and proposes migrant worker rights conventions in international forums. However, problems remain. The Government raises the issue in bilateral contacts and otherwise provides assistance through its diplomatic missions.

A comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards exists in law. Although policy formulation and review of these standards are the responsibility of the DOLE, actual enforcement often is carried out by local authorities. DOLE officials acknowledge that its 260 inspectors nationwide are inadequate for the number of work sites needing visits. Statistics on actual Work related accidents and illnesses are incomplete, as incidents (especially in agriculture) are underreported. There were frequent press accounts of workers killed in the construction of high rise buildings in urban Manila. Workers do not have a legally protected right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

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