Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Philippines

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Philippines, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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 fully functioning political party system, a bicameral legislature, a free press, and an independent judiciary. Fidel Ramos was elected President in a closely contested but generally fair election in May 1992. This was the first constitutional transfer of power since 1965.

In 1993 the Government continued a program of national reconciliation that included peace talks with the three main insurgent groups. In 1994 it promulgated regulations governing implementation of an amnesty to those who applied for it. The program was an important factor in reducing the level of violence, although fighting continues on a reduced scale.

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 continued 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 (see Section 1.a.).

The Government is implementing a far-reaching reform program ("Philippines 2000") to convert its agrarian-based paternalistic economy into an industrial market-driven one, with key reforms already underway in foreign investment, banking, and trade. Export-led growth (dominated by textiles, electronics, agricultural products, and copper) and foreign investment contributed to the 5 percent increase in gross national product in 1994, up strongly from the 2.2 percent increase of the year before. While the Government has accelerated market reforms, glaring income disparities and widespread poverty remain, the result of years of mismanagement under previous governments. In addition, an entrenched oligarchical elite continues to dominate the economy and politics and, at times, thwart reformist efforts.

Human rights abuses continued in 1994, although the number of violations reported in the first half of the year decreased significantly in most categories. The decline in abuses primarily reflected a reduction in the number of military encounters between government and insurgent forces, at a time when the Government has been discussing a limited accommodation with, Communist insurgents and Muslim separatists.

Despite greater government and nongovernmental organization (NGO) commitment to improving human rights, human rights violations continue. These included extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and harassment of civil rights activists and suspected insurgents and their supporters. Many of these abuses, which were widely reported in the press, are perpetuated 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. The Government has taken some steps to curb these abuses, although not always successfully.

Violence and discrimination against women and children continue to be serious problems. Legislation enacted to deal with these problems has been well intentioned but largely ineffective due to budget constraints and the Government's failure to set implementing guidelines. The justice system remains largely ineffective in dealing with human rights abuses. There was little observable progress in trying, convicting, and punishing perpetrators of these abuses.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The CHR reported 57 incidents of political or extrajudicial killing during the first half of 1994. It reported 254 such killings for 1993. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a prominent NGO (see Section 4), reported 27 people killed extrajudicially in the first half of 1994 as compared to 75 for all of 1993. 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. 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 1994 the PNP was the target of complaints in 251 out of 586 cases it received. In April two Manila policemen were implicated in the case of a suspected thief who was taken at night from his cell and found dead the next morning. In December a Manila policeman was charged with murder for killing a tricycle driver who reportedly refused to come inside the police station for questioning.

Police sometimes kill alleged criminals in staged shootouts. This may have been the case in the death of Abundio Lagunday, a suspect in the particularly brutal rape and killing of a 7-year-old girl, Angel Alquiza, a few days after his arrest. Police alleged that enroute to the scene of the crime, Lagunday, in handcuffs, grabbed the gun of one of his escorts. In the ensuing scuffle, the police fatally shot Lagunday. The authorities promised an investigation, but there was no report released by year's end. The public and private consensus was that Lagunday was executed.

In a September encounter with members of the Red Scorpion Group kidnap gang, police operatives shot dead six alleged members of the gang. Although one police officer suffered a gunshot wound, questions were raised as to whether the deaths were executions. In February a leading member of the Presidential Anticrime Commission (PACC) reported that it regularly receives requests from relatives of victims of heinous crimes to kill the suspects extrajudicially.

In late February, approximately 10 victims of "salvaging" (the local term for extrajudicial killing) were found in Manila. Most of the victims were alleged drug dealers or misfits. Public sentiment pointed to police or local citizens (vigilantes) as the perpetrators. Real or suspected police involvement also discouraged potential witnesses from testifying about the killings.

In an effort reform the police force, President Ramos and the PNP leadership in March dismissed 1,145 police officers and suspended another 1,020.

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. However, reflecting the further reduction in antiinsurgency activity, both the TFDP and CHR attribute only about 5 percent of human rights violations in the first half of 1994 to CAFGU's.

In a case that attracted wide attention in February 1993, two CAFGU personnel were charged with killing Chris Batan, a TFDP worker, in Mountain province. The authorities arrested one suspect, who remains in jail. Police have not arrested the second suspect even though he has reportedly been seen regularly in public. In a case of a successful prosecution, in September the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of two CAFGU members for the 1990 killing of a policeman and two other people.

As part of its continuing effort to disband CAFGU's, the military reduced the 72,000-member CAFGU'S by about 6,000 men in 1994. The military announced that in 1995 CAFGU forces would be reduced further to about 58,000. The Government plans to cut the CAFGU budget by around 10 percent in 1995. However, the Government is hesitant to reduce CAFGU levels more rapidly because it fears that dismissed CAFGU members without employment prospects will resort to banditry and other criminal activities. AFP violations of human rights continue to decline, reflecting the overall decline in counterinsurgeny activities. The CHR reported that in the first half of 1994, 12 percent of all violations were committed by military forces. The TFDP, which does not include nongovernment abuses, attributes 45 percent of violations in the same period to the military. In March the Department of National Defense relieved several members of a special forces unit for allegedly killing a policeman in Laguna. In September two soldiers were sentenced to 14 years in prison for the attempted murder of a state prosecutor in November 1993.

The NPA too was responsible for extrajudicial killings throughout the country. The most notable case was that of Hector Mabilangan, a former NPA leader in the Central Luzon region. Mabilangan, who had given up his rebel status, was shot by gunmen believed to be part of his old command in retaliation for what the murderers said were his "criminal and antirevolutionary activities." In January the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), a notorious Communist hit squad controlled by the Manila-Rizal Regional Committee of the CPP (MRRC), publicly threatened to kill over 300 of the "most notorious elements of crime syndicates and corrupt government officials." The ABB released a hit list which included numerous high-ranking police, military, and political figures. In May one person on the list, Timoteo Zarcal, was killed for "crimes against society." In December another person on the list, Jose Pring, was killed. Zarcal and Pring, both former police chief inspectors (major rank), had been relieved of duty because of their alleged involvement in kidnap-for-ransom activities. Members of their families, however, doubted the ABB's claim of responsibility for the two killings and pointed instead to the police as the perpetrators. In October four suspected ABB members shot and critically wounded a traffic policeman as he was issuing a citation to a jeepney driver. The ABB also renewed threats to impose the death penalty on policemen who do not observe the law.

Muslim extremists such as the Abu Sayaf Group (ASG) carried out other politically motivated murders. On June 8, for example, ASG members abducted 72 civilian bus passengers on the outskirts of a town in Basilan province. The group set free 37 known Muslims and killed 15 Christians. Other hostages were subsequently released. Muslim extremists were also implicated in a series of terrorist bombings, in Zamboanga and General Santos cities, which injured or killed innocent bystanders.

Private security forces maintained by local landowners and other influential figures also committed extrajudicial killings. In 1993 the arrest of the mayor of a town near Manila and a number of his associates (some of whom were policemen) on charges of raping and murdering a University of the Philippines coed and killing her boyfriend focused national attention on this longstanding problem. The trial continued through the fall, with no end in sight. The publicity generated by the case inspired the Ramos administration to undertake a nationwide campaign to dismantle "private armies." Although some arms were confiscated, critics charge that most of these were old and of little practical use, and that the campaign did not target private armies controlled by politically powerful individuals. In August the PNP leadership admitted the campaign had so far failed and promised to renew the drive in an effort to disband these groups before the May 1995 elections.

Poll violence was a problem in the May barangay (the smallest local political unit) elections. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) reported over 40 deaths in election-related violence, mostly attributable to clan and ethnic rivalries. Most of the victims were incumbent barangay officials, candidates, and their active supporters. The number of deaths represented a decrease from previous elections.

b. Disappearance

The CHR cited 5 cases of disappearance in the first half of 1994 compared with 16 cases for all of 1993. The TFDP reported no disappearances for the first half of 1994 compared with 12 cases for all of 1993. Because disappearances most commonly involve alleged insurgents or informants, the decline is largely attributable to the continued decrease in insurgent activity. Active duty military and police officers are often implicated in kidnapings, especially of wealthy Filipino-Chinese, for ransom. As a result, many victims paid the ransoms quietly and did not report the cases. Kidnap victims have also refused to identify their captors for fear of retribution.

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 continued.

The CHR reported two cases of torture in the first half of 1994, compared with five cases in 1993. The TFDP cites 25 cases in the first half of 1994, compared to 39 for all of 1993. The CHR also cites an 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.

Although prohibited by law, physical punishment continues to occur in jails and prisons. Police forces commit most such offenses, and abuse of prisoners most commonly occurs during arrest and interrogation. A CHR report on jail facilities throughout the country indicates that of 613 jails visited, only 64 were found to have adequate facilities and be in good condition. Prisoners at some 410 jails were kept in substandard conditions and subjected to human rights abuses, including physical and sexual harassment.

International monitoring groups, including 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, a right to bail. Authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours of arrest, depending on the seriousness of the crime. The CHR listed 54 cases of illegal arrest and detention for the first half of 1994 compared with 139 for all of 1993. The TFDP found that 362 persons were arrested illegally in the first half of 1994 compared with 882 such arrests in the previous year.

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 declared an amnesty program which offered former rebels and government security forces a chance to apply for amnesty, in the case of rebels for crimes they had committed in pursuit of political beliefs, and, in the case of government forces, for crimes they committed in the performance of their duties. Government security forces who committed serious human rights violations (arson, torture, extrajudicial killings, massacres, rape and robbery) were excluded from the amnesty program. Under the program, the National Amnesty Commission (NAC), a quasi-judicial body whose decisions are final, subject to a review by the Court of Appeals, reviews all amnesty applications. Most rebel groups rejected the amnesty offer, noting that it should have resulted from peace negotiations and not by arbitrary action of the Government.

Despite the overall decline in illegal arrests and detentions, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), a leading NGO network, contends that such violations against human rights workers are increasing. The PAHRA cites the case of Wilfredo and Mila Sibayan, both NGO human rights workers, the former with PAHRA's Manila office. Accused by military intelligence of being a leader of the NPA, Mr. Sibayan was arrested without a warrant outside his Manila home on March 28; no one was informed of his arrest. He was transferred several times, eventually to the northern town of Abra, where he was charged with murdering a government soldier in an earlier shootout, despite his claim that he was in Manila at the time of the encounter. He was refused legal counsel during his interrogation. When Mrs. Sibayan finally located him in Abra, she too was arrested and detained. Local church leaders were able to secure the Sibayans' release, and charges are pending.

The Sibayans' experience is echoed in a study on administrative detention by the Human Rights Committee of the NGO LAWASIA. A majority of the detainees LAWASIA interviewed were arrested without warrant; they were merely "invited" 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 there are still about 276 political prisoners 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 all of the alleged "political" prisoners are actually being held for common crimes. It is likely that some of the 300 prisoners in question have committed common crimes, the most common charge being illegal possession of firearms, in the pursuit of their political beliefs. It is also possible that a few are actual or suspected Communists who were framed for common crimes. Proving this is difficult, however, and the onus of proof 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 and/or summarily executed. In April a spokesman for the Melito Glor Command of the NPA announced that four former breakaway leaders of the CPP, including former NPA Chieftan Romulo Kintanar, would stand trial before a "people's court" for criminal and "antipeople's activities" committed while they were still active party leaders.

Forced exile is not legal and not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution calls for an independent judiciary and provides that those accused of crimes shall be informed of charges against them and have the right to counsel. Trials are public. 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. Despite these safeguards and guarantees, the pace of justice continues to be slow. Moreover, the Philippine judiciary is plagued with problems, susceptible to corruption, and biased in favor of the rich and influential. Corruption also reaches into the jails and prisons, allowing suspects to escape. While the Government, in particular the Justice Department, acknowledged the system's weaknesses and pledged to clean it up, there was little visible progress.

A study by ALTERLAW, a coalition of alternative law organizations, comprising various legal groups, identified personal connections, patronage, influence peddling, and bribery as some of the most common "unorthodox" methods used in the practice of law in the Philippines. Legal experts in and outside of the justice system make the same observations as the ALTERLAW, pointing to the personal and professional relationships between judges and the individuals and corporations whose cases they are assigned. The poor can languish in jails for years without formal charges being filed while the wealthy and powerful can use money and influence to affect their cases. Many leading law firms, known in the trade as case fixers, gain the favor of judges and other court officials. Witnesses are easily 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 of cases is 45. However, the period only begins after a case is brought to trial. As a result, suspects can wait in jail for years before their cases are brought to trial and the countdown begun. Because of numerous technical delays and frequent failures of judges and prosecutors to appear, even the 90-day limit is often not met. In June the Justice Department reported that during the first quarter of the year, the prosecution was able to resolve only 4 percent of the criminal cases it had pending.

At times there are flagrant violations of the right to an expeditious trial. For example, in February a Manila court sentenced three men to 17 years in prison for the 1975 murder and robbery of a priest. The prisoners were immediately released because they had already spent 18 years in jail. In June and August the CHR was able to secure the release of eight civilian prisoners who were sentenced by military courts when martial law was in place. The prisoners had remained in custody despite a 1988 Supreme Court decision nullifying convictions of civilians by military courts.

Some human rights cases never go to trial because victims do not pursue their cases or crucial witnesses remain silent. Lawyers representing victims of human rights violations are also harassed and are labeled as leftist sympathizers if the accused is assumed to be a leftist rebel. Human rights groups report that the many former military officers serving as judges at the municipal and local level greatly diminish the chance of a fair trial for human rights victims. The case of the accused killers of Chris Batan (see Section 1.a.) is typical of the problems involved in attempting to identify and convict perpetrators of human rights violations.

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 are occasionally reported. In the past, 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.

Some human rights NGO's are increasingly concerned about the Government's forced resettlement of tenant farmers to make way for development projects. These resettlement schemes are designed to clear the land for industrial, agroindustrial, and tourism projects. In urban settings, squatters are moved to make way for infrastructure, commercial, and housing projects. The Government has made efforts to resettle squatters, as required by law, but NGO's contend that in both rural and urban settings, those being relocated are sometimes given little or no notice and are violently ejected. 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

Although the frequency of clashes between government and insurgent forces declined, they continued to inflict hardships on civilians, particularly in remote areas which were the scene of most fighting. According to TFDP figures, in the first half of 1994 there were 7 forced evacuations, 1 food blockade, 9 "violent dispersals" (i.e., forced evacuations in which violence was used), and 54 houses demolished. Most of these categories showed declines over 1993.

In June the military launched a major campaign against the Muslim Abu Sayaf Group in Sulu and Basilian provinces. The local office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported that over 22,000 civilians were displaced in the two provinces. Over 20 evacuation centers were set up to assist the families. A factfinding report by a group of human rights NGOs and church groups reported the military operation resulted in several civilian deaths as well as in extensive looting and destruction of property.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

There are virtually no legal restrictions on freedom of expression or speech. The Government generally respects freedom of the press, and courts are consistent in their protection of the media. There are some 25 privately owned newspapers in Manila and many more in the provinces that cover the political spectrum and freely criticize the Government. (Most are owned or controlled by politicians and prominent businessmen.) Radio and television also enjoy considerable freedom. Communist publications became legal with the repeal of the Antisubversion Law in 1992. Journalists were able without legal penalty to meet and interview both Communist insurgents and military rebels.

The press, however, continues to face hazards in reporting on gambling, illegal logging, governmental corruption, and the drug trade. The dangers are greatest outside Manila where powerful vested interests involved in such activities sometimes employ violence to discourage media exposes. The journalists at risk are primarily radio broadcasters whose public affairs programs reach a much wider audience than either newspapers or televisions. The Philippine Movement for Press Freedom (PMPF), an NGO, reported that in the first 8 months of 1994 three journalists, two of them radio broadcasters, were killed. The PMPF also reported several cases of journalists being assaulted or harassed, usually by local police or employees of local politicians.

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law requires permits from local authorities for outdoor demonstrations in public places and these are routinely issued. Nevertheless, rallies and marches are often held without permits. Some of them are forcefully broken up when they interfere with traffic or are otherwise disruptive. Private, professional, religious, social, charitable, labor, and political organizations are permitted to affiliate with recognized international bodies in their fields.

An exception to this rule was the Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor held in late May at the University of the Philippines. In an unsuccessful effort to lower the profile of the Conference, particularly after Indonesian expressions of concern, the Government banned over 30 conference delegates from entering the country, including a Nobel laureate and the wife of the French President. The conference was nearly canceled when a trial court ruling by a military judge banned it. However, the Conference, minus the banned delegates, was held after a last minute decision by the Supreme Court that cited constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government respects freedom of religion and does not discriminate against any religious group or its members.

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. Movement within the country is largely unimpeded. With rare exceptions, such as pending court cases, Filipinos are allowed to travel and work abroad. The Government for years provided first asylum to Indochinese boat people, allowed the United Nations 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 CPA steering committee meeting held in Bangkok, the Government announced the closure of all refugee and asylum seeker camps in the Philippines by the end of 1994. This decision was made in compliance with a resolution of the CPA meeting calling for termination of the CPA and repatriation of the estimated 48,000 nonrefugees in the region by the end of 1995.

By October 1, there were approximately 4,500 Vietnamese asylum seekers remaining in the Philippines, of whom only about 1,500 had been determined to be "refugees" pending resettlement in third countries. The Government stated that it screened out individuals (nonrefugees) who did not choose to accept voluntary repatriation and would be considered for "nonobjector orderly return" (the repatriation of individuals who have not previously volunteered but who will not necessarily object if notified that they must return to Vietnam) beginning October 1.

The Government does not practice forcible repatriation.

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

Citizens have this right and exercised it in 1992. The Philippines has a multiparty political system with periodic free elections based on universal suffrage for citizens. In the legislature, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are controlled by a loose progovernment coalition, which does not always vote en bloc on contentious issues.

Many irregularities in the voting and election process mar political freedoms. Multiple registrations of the same voter, nonexistent or dead voters, intimidation of voters, and extrajudicial killings of candidates and their supporters (see Section 1.a.), as well as vote-buying, all occur. These problems are more acute at the local level, as are political dynasties, which use some or all of the above methods to maintain their grip on power.

The estimated 2 to 3 million overseas contract workers (OCW's) represent a significant block of voters that is effectively disenfranchised. Advocates of the rights of OCW's in 1994 began an effort to institute an absentee balloting program.

There are no restrictions in law or practice on participation by women and minorities in politics. Twenty-three women serve in the 215-seat House, 4 in the 24-member Senate, and 3 in the Cabinet.

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

The Philippines has an active and effective nongovernment organization community. There are many domestic human rights NGO's, including the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA). The latter organization represents numerous NGO's that monitor human rights conditions among various social and occupational groups. While these groups operate without government restriction, they are often viewed with suspicion by the military and police. Some local civilian officials also have been uncooperative. Employees of human rights groups in the field have encountered harassment (see Section 1.d.). A few have been killed in previous years, but there were no such killings reported in 1994.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is an independent government organization and the largest human rights organization in the Philippines. In 1994 the CHR chaired 747 public information and education activities, many of which were designed for audiences of military, police, and other public officials. Although it lacks prosecutory powers, it is constitutionally mandated to investigate all alleged violations of human rights. However, a January Supreme Court decision limited the CHR's powers to investigate civil and political rights. The CHR itself recognizes that it has an outdated organizational structure, budgetary constraints, and a need for more field offices. The CHR has been criticized for its lengthy and cumbersome procedures, its inefficiency, and its practice of placing the burden of proof on complainants, despite the risk they may face of reprisals or their lack of resources.

Representatives of international human rights groups are free to travel in the Philippines and investigate alleged abuses. Government officials routinely meet and discuss human rights problems with foreign governmental and nongovernment organizations.

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.


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, the Government does not fully enforce this legislation.

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. While in years past the focus of attention was on abused Filipino maids in Kuwait and other Gulf states, in 1994 the condition of Filipino "entertainers" in Japan and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands generated considerable press attention. 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 raised the minimum age and educational standards for young women seeking jobs abroad. It also expanded its labor attache corps in countries with large overseas contract worker communities and worked with foreign governments and NGO's to provide more effective protection for Filipino workers at risk for sexual or economic exploitation.

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; its frequency is estimated as high as one every 6 minutes. The incidence of reported rape, however, is estimated by the Philippine National Police to be 20 percent or lower. Police said that reported rape cases in the first quarter of 1994 increased 17 percent over the same period in 1993. Women's groups charge that accused rapists are dealt with leniently by the male-dominated law enforcement and judicial systems. According to women's groups, many women accept rape as part of the culture. Many rape victims are minors, who accept incestuous relationships, rather than subject the family to public embarrassment.

Proposed House legislation seeks 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, i.e., a private offense) and to expand the circumstances and conditions in which rape is considered to have been committed. The proposed laws, which face resistance in the House, would make marital rape a crime. They would also allow a rape victim's family or the state to file a complaint on her behalf. The laws do not, however, seek to increase the severity of the penalties for this crime.

In response to these problems, the PNP started the PNP Women's Desk program designed to protect women against, and encourage the reporting of, crimes against women. PNP stations include female officers trained in dealing with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence.

In June a high profile case of sexual harassment involving two senior government officials focused attention on sexual harassment in the workplace. A 1993 survey by the Institute of Labor Studies found workplace sexual harassment to be widespread, yet the problem is underreported due to victims' reticence and fears of losing their jobs. In September the Supreme Court upheld a decision that found sexual harassment was "valid cause for separation from service."Prostitution is illegal but widespread and a fact of life for many poorer Filipinos with limited access to a more acceptable career or standard of living. Penalties for prostitution are light.

Women also face discrimination in employment. Among administrative, executive, and managerial workers, the average woman's salary was only one-third of that of her male counterparts.


Several government agencies have programs devoted to the education, welfare, and development of children.

In 1994 the Commission on Human Rights opened its Child Rights Center designed to monitor and investigate violations of children's rights. Sweeping legislation was passed in 1992 to protect children's rights, but the Government has not implemented it due to lack of funding and its failure to coordinate enforcement among the many agencies involved.

Societal values that define children as extensions and property of the parents are a key factor in limiting children's rights. Courts tend to give precedence to parental authority over the rights of a child.

Many Filipino children face serious problems stemming from widespread poverty and the Government's inability to eradicate organized abuses involving child labor and child prostitution. One children's rights organization estimates that there are up to 100,000 child prostitutes in the Philippines. Although the authorities have staged some successful raids on brothels and massage parlors, freeing underaged girls forced to work as prostitutes, the problem remains a large scale one.

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

The rates of child abuse and beatings and child rape alarm the authorities; several men have been sentenced to death for the rape of their daughters. Many children have been orphaned or otherwise adversely affected by the ongoing insurgencies.

Indigenous People

Indigenous peoples 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 peoples, the remoteness of the areas they inhabit and a cultural bias against them tend to prevent their full integration into Philippine 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 peoples 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 peoples, the Government has not pushed for legislation to enforce these rights. What indigenous peoples regard as "development aggression"--the utilization of their lands for hydroelectric dams, mining operations, and other large-scale development projects--often forces their relocation and the destruction of farming and hunting lands they have used for centuries. The Government does little to secure indigenous peoples' claims to such lands. Nonetheless, in June the Government granted land rights for 108,000 hectares of land to 3,000 Bugkalot families in Quirino province. In addition, a Philippine Senator has proposed the creation of a commission on ancestral domains to conserve the lands for the benefit of cultural minorities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although people of Chinese ancestry have extensively intermarried with other Filipinos and are relatively well assimilated, there is a distinct Filipino-Chinese community numbering perhaps 1 to 2 percent of the population. This minority plays a prominent role in the national economy and is the object of some resentment by the general population. As noted in Section 1.b., the Chinese have been a primary target of kidnaping for ransom. In 1994 Filipino-Chinese businessmen were also the targets of an extortion scheme involving judges and customs officials. The judges issued false search warrants to the customs officials who, upon serving the warrants, offered to accept bribes to fix the matter.

Religious Minorities

Muslims, who comprise about 5 percent of the total population and are 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.

There are one Muslim Supreme Court justice, one Muslim Senator (a woman), and eight Muslim Congressmen.

The Government inaugurated the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in November 1990 to meet the demands of Muslims for local autonomy in areas where they hold a majority or are a substantial minority. However, the ARMM is limited to the four provinces which elected to join; it is regarded as an arbitrary creation of the Government and as falling short of representing the aspirations of all Muslims in the region, including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The ARMM Government is hobbled by an inadequate tax base, poor performance, and a continued shortfall in promised central government assistance.

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 handicapped maintain that these laws are not enforced fully, citing inadequate government funding, widespread evasion, and lingering prejudice against the handicapped among many Filipinos.

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. The largest federation, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Unions oppose government efforts to loosen prohibitions against "labor only" subcontracting, which they claim allows employers to evade obligations to their employees and helps them to break unions.

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) has expressed concern that certain provisions of the Labor Code (authorizing the Secretary of Labor to order compulsory arbitration to avert strikes in industries deemed indispensable to the national interest) are not in conformity with the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association. In 1994, however, the ILO noted that the Government sought its assistance in reforming the Labor Code. International criticism also has focused on the Code's ban on unfair practices' strikes during the term of a collective bargaining agreement. According to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), an organization which publicizes security force violations, the rights of striking workers continued to be a problem in 1994. The CTUHR counted some 70 incidents by September, involving over 900 alleged victims. The CTUHR said police were involved in nearly all these cases, and there also were instances in which military personnel were involved in dispersing strikers and dismantling picket lines in their area of jurisdiction.

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 it provided only limited rights for certain government workers. Although unions claim to have organized almost 11 percent of the total work force of 27 million, only 600,000 workers (2 percent) are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Under the law, dismissal of a union official or worker trying to organize a union is considered an unfair labor practice. Nevertheless, employers sometimes attempt to intimidate workers 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). The CTUHR and many trade unions have filed complaints before the NLRC alleging workers were dismissed solely to get rid of union members. The NLRC and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) provide the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) with quasi-judicial mechanisms for hearing and adjudicating workers' claims. The process has been slow.

There were several dozen strikes during the year, fewer than in previous years.

Labor law and practice are uniform throughout the country, including in export processing zones (EPZ's). Except for the Bataan EPZ, unions have not been able to organize zone workers--some labor sources attribute this failure to employer resistance and antiunion discrimination by EPZ authorities.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is prohibited, and the Government effectively enforces this prohibition. The Government investigates and attempts to act upon reports of abuse of Philippine workers overseas.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Child Protection Act of 1992 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 field laborers in rural areas. The most serious, industrywide violations of child labor law occur in clothing related production, much of which is exported.

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. 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 Center), officials of the DOLE and the National Bureau of Investigation carried out a number of successful raids on factories and farms. The DOLE succeeded in forcing employers to pay back wages, but court prosecutions encountered well-known delays. Secretary of Labor Confesor used radio programs to warn parents in rural provinces of the danger of allowing recruiters to lure their children with promises of "good jobs" in Manila.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Under the Minimum Wage Act of 1989, tripartite regional wage boards set minimum wages. Rates were last revised in late 1993, with the highest in Manila and lowest in rural regions. The minimum wage for workers in the national capital region (NCR) was approximately $5.60 (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 threshold." Wage boards outside the NCR, in addition to establishing lower minimum levels, also exempted employers according to such factors as establishment size, industry sector, involvement with exports, and level of capitalization. This excludes substantial numbers of workers (especially in agriculture, domestics, laborers, janitors, messengers, and drivers) from coverage under the law. Although unions have called for a nation-wide increase, the Ramos administration favors leaving responsibility for minimum wage adjustments with the regional wage boards. DOLE surveys showed that in the first half of 1994, 25 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 (see Section 1.e.)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 standards inspections by the DOLE.

A comprehensive set of occupational safety and health (OSH) standards exists in law. Although policy formulation and review of these standards is the responsibility of the DOLE, actual enforcement is carried out by 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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