Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state and government: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: signed

Negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) representing the New People's Army (NPA) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) remained suspended and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) began a new military operation against the NPA. Clashes continued in Mindanao between Islamist secessionist groups and the AFP. Serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, committed by government forces and opposition armed groups continued in the context of these conflicts. Harassment, killings or "disappearances" of opposition politicians, activists and journalists were also reported. Reports of torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police, including rape and sexual assault of female prisoners and mistreatment of children, highlighted deficiencies in the administration of justice. Complaints procedures failed to provide effective redress. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo placed a moratorium on executions while the issue of abolition of the death penalty was before Congress.


In January a six-month military exercise began in Mindanao with the involvement of 650 US soldiers in an advisory capacity. The stated objective was to train the AFP in "counter-terrorism" against Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim separatist group involved in kidnapping for ransom. In November a five-year Mutual Logistics Support Agreement was signed between the two countries providing for the use of the Philippines as a "supply point" for US military operations.

The US government added the NPA and the CPP to its list of "foreign terrorist organizations" and added NDF political consultant Jose Maria Sison to its list of "Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons". The government of the Philippines announced that the CPP-NPA was a "terrorist organization".

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights visited indigenous communities in December and noted allegations of serious human rights violations.

Communist insurgency

Formal peace negotiations between the government and the NDF remained suspended following the assassination of two congressmen by the NPA in 2001, although President Macapagal Arroyo expressed an interest in informal "back-channel" talks. In September the AFP announced the launch of "Operation Gordian Knot" targeting the NPA.

High-ranking military officials accused lawful groups critical of the government of having close links with the NPA. Individuals publicly portrayed as active NPA sympathizers risked being viewed by the military as legitimate targets of counter-insurgency operations, making them highly vulnerable to grave human rights violations. During the year, the NPA launched attacks on civilian targets and killed political opponents.

At least 28 members of opposition groups critical of government policies were reported to have been killed by government forces since early 2001. Four members of the Bayan Muna political party remained "disappeared" and were feared to have been killed. In many cases the authorities claimed that those killed were members or sympathizers of the NPA.

  • Human rights activist Benjaline Hernandez, aged 22, and three companions were shot dead in April. Local residents who saw the bodies said that Benjaline Hernandez' skull had been crushed and that her face was badly disfigured by bullet wounds. Military officials stated that she was an NPA rebel killed in cross-fire between rebels and militia. AI believed she was summarily executed as a result of her legitimate work in defence of human rights.
Armed conflict in Mindanao

Despite a cease-fire between the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government, periodic clashes continued throughout the year resulting in fatalities on both sides. The conflict also caused large-scale population displacement and civilians were killed in cross-fire.

In January Nur Misuari, leader of the Islamist separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), was returned to the Philippines from Malaysia in what appeared to be an informal extradition without a judicial hearing. He was subsequently detained on rebellion charges. A former governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Nur Misuari fled to Malaysia in 2001 after MNLF units loyal to him attacked AFP installations in the run-up to ARMM elections.

Military operations continued against Abu Sayyaf. The conflict, concentrated in Basilan and Jolo islands, led to population displacement and the death of civilians. In June, one US hostage was freed while two other hostages, one Filipina and one US national, were killed in the rescue operation. There were further kidnappings during the year. In July there were allegations that a US soldier participating in the military training exercise shot an alleged Abu Sayyaf suspect. US and Philippine military officials denied the allegation; the results of an investigation were not known at the end of the year.

Impunity and the administration of justice

Despite an extensive range of institutional and procedural safeguards, complaints mechanisms and legal sanctions, suspected perpetrators of serious human rights violations were rarely brought to justice and a climate of impunity persisted. Failures in the administration of justice derived repeatedly from unjustified use of arrests without warrant, mainly against ordinary criminal suspects but also against suspected insurgents.

After arrest, during unlawfully extended periods of "investigative" detention before the filing of charges, suspects were tortured or ill-treated by police or military personnel to extract confessions or information.

The rights of victims of torture and other human rights violations to receive prompt, effective and impartial 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 remained rare.

Children in custody

Child suspects, especially street children and those involved in substance abuse, were frequently detained without access to social workers and lawyers for extended periods and were vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment. Even where juvenile facilities were available, minors were often held in adult institutions in cells with adults, in breach of the standards set out in the UN Children's Convention.

Violence against women

Despite the announcement by government agencies of a number of initiatives to improve protection of women in detention, cases of rape, sexual assault and other forms of torture and ill-treatment in custody continued to be reported. Investigations into these violations were inadequate and rarely resulted in the prosecution of alleged perpetrators.

The lack of a law criminalizing domestic violence limited legal recourse for abuse in the home. Two bills criminalizing violence against women in the home were before Congress at the end of the year.

Death penalty

President Macapagal Arroyo suspended executions in late September while a bill on abolition of the death penalty was before Congress. The suspension followed a 90-day reprieve for Rolando Pagdayawon, Filemon Serrano and Eddie Sernadilla, who had been scheduled for execution in August, September and October respectively.

President Macapagal Arroyo initially continued former President Estrada's moratorium on executions when she came to power in January 2001, but lifted it midway through that year. Seventeen people had been due for execution in 2002, the majority convicted of rape. At the end of the year nearly 1,000 people were under sentence of death, including at least eight young offenders.

Killings and extrajudicial executions

Killings and extrajudicial executions continued throughout the year, particularly of criminal suspects. In Mindanao many such killings, including those of minors, were attributed to the so-called "Davao Death Squad" vigilante group. It was reported that local officials in some areas advocated a "shoot to kill" policy with respect to criminal suspects resisting arrest. Journalists Edgar Damalerio and Sonny Alcantara were killed in suspicious circumstances in May and August respectively and several other journalists were harassed and intimidated.


AI delegates visited the Philippines in June and November.

This 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.