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Amnesty International Report 2002 - Philippines

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2002
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2002 - Philippines , 28 May 2002, available at: [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.

Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of the Philippines
Head of state and government: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (replaced Joseph Estrada in January)
Capital: Manila
Population: 77.1 million
Official languages: Pilipino, English
Death penalty: retentionist

Defects in the administration of justice were highlighted by reports of torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police to extract confessions and of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and others. Women in custody were vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. Complaints procedures, investigations and criminal prosecution of suspected perpetrators of human rights violations failed repeatedly to provide effective redress. Arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" were reported in the context of military counter-insurgency operations. Armed political groups were responsible for grave abuses, including killings, torture and hostage-taking.


In January, aborted Senate impeachment proceedings against former President Joseph Estrada on corruption charges sparked large-scale peaceful demonstrations calling for his resignation. Following a withdrawal of support by key military and political figures, President Estrada vacated the Presidency and was replaced by Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In May, Estrada loyalists attempted to storm the presidential palace after former President Estrada was arrested and charged with plunder. President Arroyo declared a state of rebellion, temporarily suspending some civil liberties and filing rebellion charges, later withdrawn, against senior opposition figures. Nationwide congressional and local elections were held and supporters of the administration gained a majority in Congress. President Arroyo resumed peace negotiations with major armed political groups.

Communist insurgency

Peace negotiations, suspended since 1999, between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People's Army (NPA), resumed in Norway in April. Discussions continued regarding the implementation of a 1998 agreement on human rights and international humanitarian law, but negotiations were suspended in June after the NPA assassinated two congressmen, one a former prominent military intelligence officer accused of human rights violations. Confidence-building measures, including government pledges to release at least 49 of over 200 political prisoners, were undermined by continued armed clashes between units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the NPA, and reports of human rights violations by military personnel. By December at least 25 political prisoners were reported released and formal peace negotiations had not resumed.

  • In June, seven indigenous farmers were arrested by soldiers in Tamogan, Davao, accused of being NPA sympathizers. After being interrogated about supplying food to insurgents, four of the farmers reported that they were tortured, including being beaten, strangled and burned with cigarettes.
Armed conflict in Mindanao

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)

In line with the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF, a regional plebiscite on the expansion of the four-province Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was held in August. Of the provinces polled, only the Muslim majority island of Basilan voted to join the ARMM. MNLF founder and outgoing ARMM governor Nur Misuari opposed the timing of the plebiscite, and in the run-up to ARMM elections in November MNLF units loyal to him attacked AFP installations in Zamboanga and Jolo island. Over 140 people were reported killed. Nur Misuari was arrested on entering Sabah, Malaysia.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)

Peace negotiations with the MILF, which collapsed in 2000 following a series of military offensives launched by the Estrada administration against MILF bases and communities in central Mindanao, were revived. Talks held in Libya and Malaysia led to the signing of a cease-fire in August. Despite periodic cease-fire violations, substantive negotiations on the scope of a formal peace agreement continued through late 2001. Twenty-four alleged MILF members, detained on suspicion of involvement in bomb attacks in Manila in 2000, were released. MILF members, some of whom were also members of renegade units, were responsible for abuses including the deliberate and arbitrary killing of civilians and hostage-taking.

Abu Sayyaf

Military operations against Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim separatist armed group involved primarily in kidnapping for ransom, continued throughout the year mainly on Jolo and Basilan islands. In May, group members kidnapped 17 Filipinos and three US citizens from a tourist resort in Palawan and transported them to Basilan. Amid further kidnappings, ransom payments and periodic releases, at least 15 hostages were reported murdered. By the end of the year two US citizens and a Filipina remained captive. There were reports of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions and torture, by military and paramilitary personnel, of civilians suspected of being Abu Sayyaf members or sympathizers.

Impunity and the administration of justice

Emphasizing a commitment to upholding the rule of law, the government pursued criminal charges, including plunder and perjury, against former President Estrada. Concerns remained that, despite an extensive range of procedural safeguards, complaints mechanisms and legal sanctions, suspected perpetrators of serious human rights violations were rarely brought to justice and that a climate of impunity persisted.

Failures in the proper administration of justice derived repeatedly from unjustified use of arrests without warrant, mainly against ordinary criminal suspects but including suspected insurgents. After arrest, during unlawfully extended periods of "investigative" detention before the filing of charges, suspects were subjected to torture or ill-treatment by police or military personnel to extract confessions or information.

The right of victims of torture and other human rights violations to receive prompt, impartial and thorough investigations of their complaints continued to be severely curtailed, and public confidence in existing complaints bodies, including the Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the Ombudsman, remained low. Prolonged trial proceedings placed excessive burdens on those seeking judicial remedies, especially victims from poor or marginalized communities, and convictions in such cases were rare.
  • Having investigated for over five years complaints of torture made by five suspects convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Rolando Abadilla, the Department of Justice resolved in August not to file charges against police officers accused of torture on the grounds that a Supreme Court review, automatic in all death penalty cases, was continuing.
Vulnerability of marginalized groups

Indigenous people

Instances of deliberate and arbitrary killings were reported in the context of land disputes. Abuses were reportedly carried out by private security guards or gunmen reportedly hired by local land-owning interests with the apparent collusion of local officials and police. Investigations into such abuses often appeared ineffective.

Women and children in conflict with the law

Cases of rape and sexual abuse of women in custody continued to be reported. These involved women from marginalized groups such as suspected prostitutes, drug users and poor people arrested for minor crimes. Both women and minors in detention continued to be vulnerable to other physical assaults including slaps, punches or kicks. Officials announced plans to improve protection of women in custody from sexual abuse, but concerns persisted. In addition, reports continued of alleged drugs dealers, including street children, being shot dead in the community by suspected police officers or other armed men.
  • A woman held in Talavera Jail, Nueva Ecija, on charges of embezzlement was allegedly raped four times by a jail warden and threatened with death. Officials ordered the suspension of the accused pending investigations.
Death penalty

Declaring his intention to commute all death sentences and to support congressional repeal of the death penalty, former President Estrada signed commutation orders for 103 death-row inmates whose sentences had been confirmed by the Supreme Court. The new administration signalled that it would maintain an unofficial moratorium on executions and President Arroyo commuted 18 sentences. However, in October the President announced that she would support the execution of at least 95 convicted kidnappers following confirmation of their sentences. Over 1,800 people, including nine minors, have been sentenced to death, and seven men executed, since capital punishment was restored in 1994.

AI country reports/visits

  • Philippines: Fear, shame and impunity – rape and sexual abuse of women in custody (AI Index: ASA 35/001/2001)

In March, an AI delegate carried out research into the torture of detainees in Manila, and visited central Mindanao to assess reported violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the context of armed conflict.
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