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Amnesty International Report 1998 - Philippines

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1998 - Philippines, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa088.html [accessed 21 September 2017]
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.

(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

At least 150 political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention. Reports of torture and ill-treatment by police continued. Human rights violations occurring in the context of counter-insurgency continued to decline, but at least three possible "disappearances" were reported, and at least 10 people were allegedly extrajudicially executed. At least 170 people were sentenced to death and the way was cleared for executions to resume in February 1998. Armed opposition groups committed human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings and hostage-taking.

Proposals to amend the Constitution to allow President Fidel Ramos to stand for a second six-year term in 1998 sparked domestic controversy. In September, after large-scale public protests, a congressional motion in favour of the constitutional amendment was withdrawn, the Supreme Court ruled against a plebiscite on the issue, and President Ramos announced that he would not stand for re-election.

Peace talks continued between the government and the National Democratic Front, representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (cpp) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (npa). Negotiators reached a tentative agreement on the first stage of a four-stage agenda for the peace process. In August the first stage agreement, covering respect for human rights and international humanitarian law during military operations, was initialled. Negotiations, interrupted by outbreaks of military conflict, were held between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (milf) on the southern island of Mindanao in an attempt to agree a general cease-fire as a prelude to a formal peace accord. No comprehensive cease-fire had been announced by the end of the year.

In January President Ramos ordered the release of 19 political prisoners and extended from April 1994 to June 1995 the period during which crimes could be considered as having been "politically motivated", and therefore eligible for consideration by the National Amnesty Commission. In March Juanito Ecal, a former labour leader accused of being a member of the npa and of killing a company security guard in 1984, was released after 13 years in detention. Juanito Ecal was allegedly tortured by soldiers during interrogation and convicted of murder mainly on the strength of evidence which had reportedly been planted by police. At least 150 political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, continued to be held for offences which allegedly occurred in the context of cpp-npa insurgency. Most were held on criminal charges, particularly illegal possession of firearms, robbery and murder, and had not been convicted by the end of the year.

There were continued reports of torture and ill-treatment by police of criminal suspects and of those accused of involvement in insurgency, in order to coerce confessions and extract the names of suspected accomplices. The Philippine National Police (pnp) practice of arresting suspects without warrants remained widespread. Patterns of ill-treatment and torture were most often reported during "administrative detention" – the period between arrest and the laying of formal charges which, under Philippine law, is permitted for between 12 and 36 hours, depending on the seriousness of the charge. Prisoners in Manila, the capital, charged with criminal offences alleged that pnp and National Bureau of Investigation (nbi) officers punched them with fists, at times with bullets held between the interrogator's fingers, and beat them with rifle butts or batons. Pistol barrels were reportedly placed against the head or in the mouth and suspects threatened with death. Plastic bags were allegedly put over the suspects' heads and held tightly at the back, or water was dripped on cloths placed over the face. Electric shocks were also reportedly applied to the genitals, lips, ears, arms or legs.

Instances of harassment, ill-treatment and use of excessive force by police and other law enforcement officials were reported within the context of labour disputes, and of the forced eviction and demolition of poor residential areas and indigenous communities. Some human rights abuses were carried out by private security guards with the apparent connivance and collusion of local officials and police. In July community leader Jonathan Mana-ay was shot dead, allegedly by private security guards, after more than 30 people were injured during violent confrontations between armed demolition teams and the residents of a poor residential area at Sitio Mendez, Barangay Bahay Toro in Manila. In July, three members of the Suminao clan of the Higaonon indigenous people were shot dead by pnp officers during a violent forced eviction in Bukidnon province, Mindanao. One clansman was reportedly kicked and beaten and four other people, including the clan chieftain and an eight-year-old girl, were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds. The incident followed earlier reports of harassment of clan members, including death threats and the burning of houses, by unidentified men. The Suminao clan had been in dispute with a prominent local political family over ownership of ancestral lands.

Despite the continued fall in the number of grave human rights violations perpetrated by members of the security forces in the context of counter-insurgency operations, at least three possible "disappearances" were reported. In an incident reminiscent of past patterns of "disappearances" carried out by members of the security forces, Romeo Cortez was abducted in Pampanga province, Luzon, by unidentified armed men in April as he returned home, apparently because of his activities as a peasant leader. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.

At least 10 possible extrajudicial executions were reported. In May a militia unit in Misamis Oriental province, Mindanao, opened fire on a family house which they suspected was occupied by npa sympathizers. Carmelita Lauron and her three children were killed, and four other relatives wounded. In August members of an Armed Forces of the Philippines (afp) unit in Misamis Oriental province asked the wife of Lito Aslag about the whereabouts of her husband. After the soldiers were directed to nearby woods, shots were heard. The following day Lito Aslag and his two companions, 16-year-old twin brothers Roy and Rey Loreno, were found in a Cayayan de Oro City mortuary. Witnesses stated that the bodies had been brought to the mortuary by soldiers. In early 1997 a series of death threats were sent to two senior judges, a senator and human rights lawyers linked to the prosecution of 27 pnp officers allegedly involved in the extrajudicial execution of 11 suspected members of a bank robbery gang in 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

Thousands of people were displaced following intermittent military offensives against milf forces, some in response to reported attacks and kidnappings by armed groups. In June over 40,000 civilians fled their homes after afp attacks on a milf camp and surrounding areas in North Cotabato province during which scores of people were killed or wounded.

At least 170 people were sentenced to death. In September the Supreme Court, which automatically reviews all death sentences, ruled that Leo Pilo Echegary, the first prisoner to have his sentence confirmed (see Amnesty International Report 1997), could be executed by lethal injection between February and August 1998. Over 410 people had been sentenced to death since capital punishment was restored in December 1993. Reports of torture and ill-treatment to coerce confessions from some suspects accused of involvement in capital crimes increased concern over the risk of judicial error in death penalty cases.

Armed opposition groups were responsible for human rights abuses. Muslim armed groups in Mindanao, including the milf, Abu Sayyaf and renegade units of the Moro National Liberation Front continued to take civilians hostage and to carry out deliberate and arbitrary killings. In October the milf publicly executed two men accused of murder and robbery.

In February Amnesty International called for adequate protection for the judges and lawyers involved in the prosecution of pnp officers linked to the extrajudicial execution of 11 bank robbers. The organization called for investigations into reports of possible "disappearances" and possible extrajudicial executions. In October Amnesty International released a report, Philippines: The death penalty – criminality, justice and human rights, detailing its concerns over the application of the death penalty, calling for investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment by police, and urging President Ramos to exercise clemency in the cases of those prisoners whose sentences have been confirmed by the Supreme Court, and to suspend executions with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty.

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