Philippines 2016/2017

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Philippines 2016/2017

The government launched a campaign to crackdown on drugs in which over 6,000 people were killed. Human rights defenders and journalists were also targeted and killed by unidentified gunmen and armed militia. The use of unnecessary and excessive force by police continued. In a landmark ruling the courts convicted a police officer for torture for the first time under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act.

Background

In September, the Philippines accepted the Chair of ASEAN for 2017.

In November, street protests took place after the body of former President Ferdinand Marcos, during whose presidency widespread human rights violations were committed, was re-buried in the Heroes Cemetery, a move backed by the President. The Philippines was reviewed by the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Unlawful killings

In June, the government launched a campaign to crackdown on drugs which led to a wave of unlawful killings across the country, many of which may have amounted to extrajudicial executions.1 These killings followed the election of President Duterte, who repeatedly and publicly endorsed the arrest and killing of those suspected of using or selling drugs. No police officers or private individuals were known to have faced charges for over 6,000 deaths during the year. Witnesses and families of victims feared coming forward in case of reprisals.

The majority of victims were reported to be young men, some of whom were suspected of using or selling small amounts of methamphetamines. Victims included the Mayor of Albuera, Rolando Espinosa Senior, who was shot dead in his prison cell while being served a search warrant. President Duterte had publicly branded the Mayor a leading drug dealer. Despite an investigation by the National Bureau of Investigations, which recommended that charges be filed against the police officers allegedly responsible, the President promised to protect the police.

As a result of the so-called “war on drugs”, at least 800,000 people reportedly “surrendered” to the authorities in fear they would be targeted on suspicion of drug-related offences. Consequently, prisons were severely overcrowded, exacerbating an already acute problem.

Journalists remained at risk, with at least three killed while carrying out their work. Alex Balcoba, a crime reporter for the People’s Brigada, was killed when he was shot in the head in May by an unidentified gunman in Quiapo in the capital Manila, outside his family’s shop. Families of victims marked the seventh anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre in which 32 journalists and another 26 people were killed. No one had been held to account for these crimes by the end of the year.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Reports of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody continued. In March, police officer Jerick Dee Jimenez was convicted of torturing bus driver Jerryme Corre, and sentenced to a maximum of two years and one month’s imprisonment. It was the first conviction under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act. However, many other cases were still awaiting justice.2 In July, a postmortem conducted by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines recorded torture marks on the bodies of father and son Renato and J.P. Bertes, who were shot dead in police custody.

A bill to establish a National Preventative Mechanism on torture stalled during the year. In May, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about torture by police and urged the Philippines to close all places of secret detention where detainees, including children, were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

Excessive use of force

The use of unnecessary and excessive force by police continued. In April, the police used force, including firearms, to disperse over 5,000 farmers who had blockaded a national highway in Kidapawan City during a demonstration demanding rice subsidies. At least two people died during the incident and dozens were injured.3 In July, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines published a report which found that excessive and unjustified force had been used by the police during the incident but no police officers were prosecuted for related offences by the end of the year.

In October, the police brutally suppressed a rally organized by Indigenous Peoples’ organizations in front of the US Embassy. The protest called for an end to militarization and encroachment onto ancestral lands. 

Human rights defenders

In July, environmentalist Gloria Capitan was killed by two gunmen in Mariveles, Bataan province. She was involved in opposing a coal mining project in her community. In October, the UN CESCR expressed concern at the continuing harassment, enforced disappearances and killings of human rights defenders, and the low level of investigations into, and prosecutions and convictions for these crimes.

Death penalty

In July, ruling party congressmen proposed bills to reintroduce the death penalty for a wide range of offences. If passed, the punishment, which was abolished in 2006, would apply to crimes including rape, arson, drug trafficking and possession of small amounts of drugs. The bills sparked an outcry from human rights organizations on the grounds that they would violate international human rights law, and would not deter crime.4 Bills were also filed proposing to lower to nine years old the age of criminal responsibility.

Abuses by armed groups

Abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by armed militia continued. More than a year after the 2015 killing of three leaders of the Lumad community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur province, the suspected perpetrators had not been prosecuted and over 2,000 people remained displaced from their homes. In October, anti-mining activist, Jimmy P. Sayman died a day after being shot in an ambush by unidentified gunmen in Montevista town, Mindanao. Local human rights organizations alleged that paramilitaries were responsible.

Right to an adequate standard of living, education and justice

The UN CESCR condemned the failure to pay the minimum wage for all but 13% of the workforce, and the fact that several sectors were exempt from benefiting from the minimum wage.

  1. Philippines: Duterte’s 100 days of carnage (News story, 7 October)
  2. Philippines: Historic ruling on police torture following Amnesty International campaign (News story, 1 April)
  3. Philippines: Ensure accountability for police use of excessive force against demonstrators (ASA 35/3800/2016)
  4. Philippines: Lawmakers must urgently oppose attempts to reintroduce death penalty (ASA 35/5222/2016)

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