The Philippines remain hounded by “significant human rights issues” and concerns about state forces’ “impunity” are still unaddressed, the US State Department said in its 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices.
“The government investigated some reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its forces and paramilitary forces. Concerns about police impunity remained given reports of continued extrajudicial killings by police,” the report said.
“Significant concerns also persisted about impunity for other security forces, civilian national and local government officials, and powerful business and commercial figures. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” it added.
The annual Country Reports cover 198 countries and territories, providing factual, objective information based on credible reports of the events that occurred throughout 2022, the US State Department said.
It added the reports are “meticulously compiled” by its employees using information from US embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, jurists and legal experts, journalists, academics, human rights defenders, labor activists, and published reports.
Its report on the Philippines said it found “significant human rights issues” including “credible reports” of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by and on behalf of the government, and other physical abuses by nonstate actors; unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists; hig-level and widespread government corruption; gender-based violence; child abuse; and threats and violence against labor activists, among others.
Drug war killings
Citing Philippine government data, the report said law enforcement authorities conducted approximately 15,000 anti-drug operations from January to May.
It noted reports of “arbitrary or unlawful killings by police in connection with anti-drug operations.”
As to disappearances, it cited the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) investigation on nine cases involving 41 persons, even as the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict reported no cases of forced disappearance attributed to its personnel.
“The law allows family members of alleged victims of disappearances to compel government agencies to provide statements in court … and the victim’s status. Evidence of a kidnapping or killing requires the filing of charges, but in many past cases evidence and documentation were unavailable or not collected. Investigative and judicial action on disappearance cases was insufficient,” the State Department said.
The CHR also looked into 33 cases of alleged torture involving 45 victims. Thirteen identified members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were involved in four of the cases; 18 cases involved unidentified members of the PNP, three cases involved four jail officers, seven cases involved unidentified individuals, and one case was allegedly perpetrated by members of the military. Two of the reported cases involved gender-based violence, 13 involved detainees during the arrest process, and 14 involved prisoners.
“Human rights groups continued to express concern about the contribution of corruption to abuses committed by the PNP and other security forces and noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. The national police’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that police corruption was endemic continued,” the report said.
It added, “The Congressional Commission on Appointments may withhold a PNP promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses, although no such action was reported, and alleged abusers were promoted.”
The State Department also highlighted the “irregularities” in the process of issuing warrants and making arrests “common.”
It said that while the law provides an accused or detained person the right to choose a lawyer including a public defender, due to lack of resources, “the Public Attorney’s Office failed to provide all indigent persons with access to public defenders.”
“Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the PNP. Local and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch described widespread impunity for killings. There were no prosecutions or convictions for extrajudicial killings in the year to October and just three since the start of the drug war in 2016,” the report said.
Red-tagging, restrictions on academic freedom
According to the State Department, the “practice of red-tagging continued under the new administration.”
“Government officials or their allies often used red-tagging to label human rights advocates, unions, religious groups, academics, and media organizations as fronts for or clandestine members of insurgent and other opposition groups,” it said.
Journalists continued to face harassment and threats of violence, it added, citing the killing of radio broadcaster Percy Lapid on October 3, Jesus Malabanan and four others.
While there were no national government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, the State Department report said “the government kept some schools for indigenous Lumad students in Mindanao closed.”
“Some government institutions have also ordered bans on or the removal of ‘subversive’ learning materials from schools and public libraries,” it added.
Sought for comments, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar said the military organization “protects and promotes human rights.”
“We have a human rights office, now Center for Law of Armed Conflict, that promulgates policies to strengthen AFP’s respect for human rights and adherence to International Humanitarian Law,” Aguilar told GMA News Online in a message.
“Human rights and IHL form part of every career course offered by our military schools. The record of CHR will also speak for the AFP’s compliance to the government’s commitment to protect human rights,” it added.
GMA News Online has reached out to the PNP for its comment on the US State Department report, but it has yet to respond as of posting time.
Women, children, LGBTQI+
The report also said “the government did not effectively enforce the laws on rape.”
“NGOs (non-government organizations) noted that in smaller localities perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution,” it said.
As of August, the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center recorded 4,810 cases of rape involving women and children, a drop from the number recorded during the same period of 2021. Of these, 2,351 were referred to prosecutors, 1,073 were filed in court, 1,353 remained under investigation, and 32 were referred to another agency.
Police operated 115 Women and Children Protection Units in health facilities across the country, to provide comprehensive medical and psychosocial services to survivors of sexual violence, according to the report.
The PNP said reported acts of domestic violence against women decreased from 6,082 in January to July 2021 to 4,099 for the same period in 2022.
However, the State Department said NGOs reported that “cultural and social stigma deterred many women from reporting rape or domestic violence.”
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons, meanwhile, “remained a problem,” the report said.
NGOs reported incidents of discrimination and abuse including in employment, education, health care, housing and social services.
However, the report said “there was no national statute barring discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The report cited the Philippines’ new law imposing a total ban on marriage for persons younger than 18, and metes penalty on child marriages.
As to sexual exploitation of children, it said that “inadequate prosecutorial resources and capacity to analyze alleged abusers’ computers for evidence were among the challenges to effective enforcement.”
“Despite the penalties and enforcement efforts, law enforcement agencies and NGOs agreed that criminals and family members continued to use minors in the production of pornography and in cybersex activities,” it added. — with Joviland Rita/KBK/RSJ, GMA Integrated News