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2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

Report - March 3, 2017


The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May, began the first year of his constitutionally limited six-year term on June 30. The May presidential and 2013 midterm national elections were generally free and fair. The 2016 local elections were postponed until 2017.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the Philippine National Police (PNP), which did not have a civilian head of the Internal Affairs Service from 2008 until December, when the government confirmed a civilian in the position. There were no reports that civilian control over other security forces was inadequate.

Since July police and unknown vigilantes have killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users as the government pursued a policy aimed of eliminating illegal drug activity in the country by the end of the year. Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and they increased sharply over the past year. The PNP reported 2,155 suspects killed during police antidrug operations between July 1 and December 26 and approximately 4,000 more allegedly drug-related killings by unknown persons during that period. The law requires an internal PNP investigation of all injuries and deaths resulting from police operations. As of September, 709 investigations were opened into deaths resulting from PNP operations. As of December 26, charges had been filed in approximately 800 of the killings by unknown persons. September hearings in the senate on the rise in killings were postponed after three days.

The most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.

Other human rights problems included: official corruption and abuse of power; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; security force harassment of political activists, including threats of violence against human rights activists; warrantless arrests; lengthy pretrial detentions; overcrowded and inadequate prison conditions; killings and harassment of journalists; insufficient provision of services to internally displaced persons (IDPs); violence against women; abuse and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; limited access to facilities for persons with disabilities; lack of full integration of indigenous people into political and economic structures; absence of law and policy to protect persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; child labor; and ineffective enforcement of worker rights.

The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly as few administrative or criminal charges were filed against PNP officers following the sharp increase in police killings. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of the killings and claimed authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures persisted.

Conflicts between the government and long-running Muslim separatist, communist insurgent, and terrorist groups continued to displace civilians and kill security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations, with agendas and memberships at times overlapping those of separatist or political rebels, included the New People’s Army (NPA), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and Jemaah Islamiya (JI). Muslim separatist groups included the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the MILF-breakaway Bangsamoro (a proposed Muslim-dominated autonomous province in southwestern Mindanao) Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Moro National Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF). Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom and bombings of civilian targets, reportedly used child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles, and operated shadow governments in areas they controlled. Government negotiations with the NPA, beginning in August in Oslo, resulted in an indefinite ceasefire. Legislation that would implement the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the MILF and the government remained stalled in congress.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports that the PNP committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with a government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by unknown assailants and antigovernment insurgents continued.

The PNP reported that 2,155 suspected drug dealers were killed in police operations under the government’s antidrug campaign, Operation Double Barrel, between July 1 and December 26. The PNP reported that 4,049 individuals with alleged links to illegal drugs died in vigilante killings by unknown assailants between July 1 and December 15. President Duterte campaigned on a platform against crime, specifically the widespread trafficking and abuse of illegal narcotics, which included numerous public statements suggesting that killing suspected drug traffickers and users was necessary to meet his goal of wiping out drug-related crime within three to six months of assuming office. Although the president and senior officials stated that police should follow the law, and that there was no tolerance for extrajudicial killings, authorities made promises of immunity from investigation and prosecution for officers involved in drug killings. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service reported that manpower and resource limitations hampered the legally required investigations into deaths resulting from police operations, but asserted that 100 percent of the deaths in police shootings resulted from legitimate, lawful police operations.

On at least two occasions, President Duterte released lists of suspected drug criminals, including government, police, and military officials and members of the judiciary. The government has not revealed the source of this information and the accuracy and legitimacy of the lists has been questioned. Some individuals named on the lists were subsequently killed in either police operations or suspected vigilante killings.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency responsible for investigating alleged human rights violations, investigated 227 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 299 victims as of August. Some of these complaints involved police or vigilante killings associated with the antidrug campaign. The CHR also announced an investigation into President Duterte’s claims that he had personally killed several suspects during his earlier tenure as mayor of Davao. The CHR suspected personnel from the PNP or the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency were involved in 112 of the complaints, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or paramilitary personnel in one, members of the communist/terrorist NPA in four, civilians in one, local government units in one, and unidentified persons in the remainder.

The PNP’s Task Force Usig, which was responsible for investigating and monitoring killings of media members, labor activists, and foreigners, reported no new cases from January to August.

The reported number of alleged extrajudicial killings during the year varied widely, as the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. As of August 31, the NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) documented six cases of state-perpetrated, politically motivated killings carried out by the AFP and/or the PNP. The TFDP noted that these cases were separate from killings in the antidrug campaign.

In one case, the November 5 killing of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa in his prison cell by PNP officers executing a search warrant drew condemnation from the Commission on Human Rights and legislators. A one-day senate inquiry into the operation determined there was strong evidence that this was a premeditated killing of a suspect with links to the illegal drug trade by police officers in the line of duty.

In another case, two off-duty police officers were arrested in Mindoro in October after they shot and killed Zenaida Luz, regional chairperson of Citizens Crime Watch. The officers were out of uniform and not undertaking an official operation when they shot and killed Luz. The officers remained in detention as of November, but the trial had not begun.

b. Disappearance

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The trial of retired Major General Jovito Palparan, Jr., arrested in 2014 for involvement in the 2006 disappearance of two students, continued.

According to the law, family members of alleged victims of disappearances may compel government agencies to provide statements in court about what they know of the circumstances surrounding a disappearance (or extrajudicial killing) and the victim’s status. Evidence of a kidnapping or killing requires the filing of charges, but in many cases, evidence and documentation were unavailable or not collected. Investigative and judicial action on disappearance cases was insufficient; a minority of previously reported cases were prosecuted.

The government did not respond to the 2012 request by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances for a country visit. The Working Group closed in May, having reported 625 unresolved disappearance cases in the country since 1980.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. Members of the security forces and police, however, allegedly routinely abused and sometimes tortured suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

As of August, the CHR investigated 33 cases of alleged torture involving 46 victims, with police suspected in 20 cases, the military in five, paramilitaries in three, jail guards in two, other government officials in six, and civilians in three. Some of these cases involved two or more categories of accused perpetrators. In the same period, the TFDP documented five cases of torture involving 11 victims. In 2014 Amnesty International gathered testimony from 55 persons who experienced torture at the hands of police officers since 2009.

In March, PNP officer Jerick Dee Jimenez was the first individual convicted under the 2009 Anti-torture Act for his involvement in the torture of Jerryme Corre. Jimenez was sentenced to two years and one month in prison and ordered to pay Corre damages of 100,000 pesos (PHP) ($2,130).

Mental abuse, including shaming--illegal under the Anti-torture Act--reportedly occurred, especially in drug cases. In May, Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan City, Batangas, ordered 11 suspected drug pushers to parade through town wearing t-shirts that read, “I’m a pusher. Don’t be like me.”

As part of the antidrug campaign, authorities called on drug criminals to turn themselves in to police to avoid more severe consequences. More than 980,000 persons turned themselves in to the PNP between July 1 and December 26. Documented as “surrenderees,” the majority were later released. Civil society and other observers claimed a climate of fear led many persons associated with drugs to surrender out of fear for their lives.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were often harsh and potentially life threatening and, in some cases, included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and medical care, food shortages, and physical abuse.

Reports continued that prison guards physically abused inmates. TFDP reported that abuses by prison guards and other inmates were common, but stated that prisoners, fearing retaliation, declined to lodge formal complaints.

Physical Conditions: The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), under the Department of Justice (DOJ), administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. During the year, BuCor facilities operated at roughly 2.5 times the official capacity of 16,010, housing 41,532 prisoners.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the PNP, controlled 932 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The DILG reported that BJMP jails operated at an average of more than four times their designated capacity. The Quezon City Jail, for example, had an official capacity of slightly more than 1,000 inmates, yet in September held 3,845 prisoners. Several NGOs observed that overcrowding was more severe in smaller cities, a condition that reportedly triggered violence among inmates and promoted gang rivalries. Although international media attention on jail conditions was raised by media coverage of the antidrug campaign, these conditions existed prior to the campaign’s start.

Approximately 98 percent of prisoners in BJMP and PNP jails were pretrial detainees; the balance were convicted criminals serving less than three-year sentences. Juveniles under the age of 18 were typically released by court order or following a petition by the Public Attorney’s Office, the inmate’s private lawyer, or through NGO-led appeals. Juveniles made up well under 1 percent of the prison population.

Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce BJMP and BuCor regulations that require holding male and female inmates in separate facilities and, in national prisons, overseeing them with guards of the same sex. In some facilities authorities did not fully segregate juveniles from adults. The BJMP and BuCor reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with between 50 and 70 prisoners to each custodial staff member.

Reports continued to indicate that poor sanitation, ventilation, access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, BuCor and the BJMP reported 713 inmate deaths, a death rate of 0.45 percent. Most deaths were the result of illnesses, including pneumonia, pulmonary tuberculosis, and cardiopulmonary arrest. There was a process for inmates to receive medical treatment at their own expense from an outside doctor, but the Department of Justice restricted the program in 2015 due to allegations of abuse and corruption.

Opportunities for prisoner recreation, learning, and self-improvement remained scarce.

Administration: The BJMP helped expedite court cases to promote speedy disposition of inmates’ cases. Through this program, authorities released 25,089 inmates from BJMP jails as of July.

Authorities generally allowed prisoners and detainees to receive visitors, but local NGOs reported that authorities periodically restricted family visits for some political detainees. Prison officials noted that security concerns and space limitations at times also restricted prisoner access to visitors.

Muslim officials reported that, while Muslim detainees were allowed to observe their religion, Roman Catholic mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to prison populations of both Catholic and non-Catholic prisoners and detainees.

Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the CHR referred complaints it received to the applicable agency.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted international monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, free and timely access to jails and prisons. The constitution grants the CHR authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations, but in August its access to New Bilibid Prison was limited to conducting interviews with only a few inmates in the visiting area, hampering its overall monitoring of human rights inside the facility.

Improvements: BuCor and BJMP attempted to decongest the inmate population in jails and prisons by constructing additional jails, cells, and dormitories and transferring inmates to less congested prisons and penal farms. Over 373 million PHP ($7.94 million) was allotted to BJMP for jail construction during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

As of August, the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, reported 72 arbitrary detention violations committed by law enforcement agencies or the AFP during the year.


The PNP is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the DILG. The AFP, which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions with a high incidence of conflict, particularly in areas of Mindanao. The two agencies shared responsibility for counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. The PNP is responsible, in particular, for urban counter-terrorism operations. On September 3, President Duterte declared a “state of national emergency on account of lawlessness” after a terrorist bombing in Davao City, allowing the military to supplement PNP efforts to prevent or suppress violence. On September 6, the government issued Presidential Proclamation 55, which clarified that the state of emergency did not suspend the writ of habeas corpus or other constitutional protections and that the declaration was indefinite.

Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including approval of top departmental and municipal police officers and the provision of resources, an arrangement that often resulted in graft and corruption.

The 168,000-member PNP’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption was endemic within the force continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service, mandated to the police operate within the law, remained largely ineffective. Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the PNP through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights-based modules were, for example, included in all PNP career courses, and the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing.

The PNP came under criticism from domestic and international human rights groups for its role in Operation Double Barrel. Between January 1 and September 26, the PNP Internal Affairs Service opened 709 internal investigations into the 940 PNP killings reported in that period. As of late September, no administrative or criminal charges against PNP officers had resulted from the investigations.

Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remained largely ineffective. President Duterte publicly condemned corruption in government and security forces, but oversight mechanisms were poorly resourced and there was little effort to target corrupt security officials. From January to August, the Office of the Ombudsman received 181 complaints concerning 294 cases of alleged military and law enforcement involvement in human rights abuses, including killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. A large majority (92 percent) of the cases were against low-ranking officials. As of August, all cases remained open pending additional investigation. There were no convictions recorded against high-ranking police or military officials.

Between January and August, the PNP opened 12 administrative cases alleging grave misconduct involving 19 personnel.

The AFP Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through August, the office identified and investigated six reported incidents, including homicide (one), torture (two), illegal detention and abuse of authority (one), violence against women and children (one), and arbitrary interference (one). As of August, the AFP had settled the homicide case when the victim’s family agreed not to pursue charges; the torture investigation was closed with the dishonorable discharge of one individual from the AFP. Four cases remained pending.

Police and the military routinely provided human rights training to their members, augmented by training from the CHR. The AFP used its revised Graduated Curricula on Human Rights/International Humanitarian Law for the Military to provide a uniform standard of training across service branches. The AFP adhered to a 2005 Presidential Memorandum requiring the incorporation of human rights and international humanitarian law into all AFP education and training courses. Successful completion of these courses is required to finish basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities.

The Commission on Appointments determines whether senior military officers selected for promotion have a history of human rights violations and solicits input from the CHR and other agencies through background investigations. The commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Negative findings, however, do not preclude promotion.

Staffing of the PNP’s network of human rights desk officers at the national, regional, provincial, and municipal levels decreased from 2,488 to 1,808 during the year. The PNP Human Rights Affairs Office included a human rights-based policing module in all PNP career officer training courses, distributed pocket cards bearing a Miranda warning and antitorture warning to all officers, and distributed posters explaining the rights of arrested persons to some PNP offices.

Human rights groups noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection through the witness protection program managed by the DOJ due to inadequate funding or procedural delays or failed to step forward because of doubts about the program’s effectiveness. The CHR operated a smaller witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the antinarcotics campaign. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that the lack of witnesses and victims’ failure to cooperate in the pursuit of police abuse or corruption cases sometimes followed pressure on them and their families and sometimes arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.

Government-armed civilian militias supplemented the AFP and PNP. The AFP controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs), while the Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) fell under PNP command. These paramilitary units often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated. Some political families and clan leaders, particularly in Mindanao, maintained private armies and, at times, recruited CVO and CAFGU members into those armies.

Human rights NGOs linked state-backed militias and private armies with numerous human rights abuses, including the 2009 massacre of 58 civilians in Maguindanao Province. Prosecution of that case has moved slowly due to a dysfunctional justice system and the complexities of simultaneously trying more than 105 defendants. The prosecution rested its case, but the defense only began presenting its evidence in June. The chief suspect, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., died in 2015. Such delays continued to reinforce the perception of impunity for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of human rights abuses.


Warrants issued by a duly authorized official based on sufficient evidence are required for an arrest unless the suspect is observed in the act of committing an offense, when there is probable cause that the suspect had just committed an offense, or when the suspect is an escaped prisoner. Authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours for arrests made without warrants, depending on the seriousness of the crime. In terrorism cases, the law permits warrantless arrests and detention without charges for up to three days.

Detainees have the right to bail, except when held for offenses punishable by a life sentence. The bail system largely functioned as intended, and suspects are allowed to appeal a decision to deny bail made by a judge. The law provides an accused or detained person the right to choose a lawyer and, if indigent, to have the state provide one. Due to an under-resourced Public Attorney’s Office, however, indigent persons had limited access to public defenders.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to detain individuals, including juveniles, arbitrarily and without warrants on charges other than terrorism, especially in areas of armed conflict.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem due largely to the slow and dysfunctional justice system. The average pretrial detention time was 18 months. Large jails employed paralegals to monitor inmates’ cases, prevent detention beyond the maximum sentence, and assist decongestion efforts.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to a judicial review of the legality of their detention. The 1987 constitution contains severe financial penalties for law enforcement officers who are found to have unlawfully detained individuals. Some human rights observers have linked these penalties to extrajudicial killings, asserting that law enforcement officers often viewed killing a suspect as less risky than detaining him/her.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although not in a timely manner. Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and sometimes bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders. Insufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays continued to hinder the judicial system. These factors contributed to widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system delivered due process and equal justice.

Trials took place as a series of separate hearings, often months apart, as witnesses and court time became available, contributing to lengthy delays. There was a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. Judgeship vacancy rates were approximately 19 percent. Courts in Mindanao and poorer provinces had higher vacancy rates than the national average. Sharia (Islamic law) court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because of the requirement that applicants be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. Sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Although the Prosecutor General was given authority to hire hundreds of new prosecutors, training for them was short and considered inadequate.

The Supreme Court continued efforts to provide for speedier trials, reduce judicial malfeasance, increase judicial branch efficiency, and raise public confidence in the judiciary. It continued to implement guidelines to accelerate the resolution of cases in which the maximum penalty, if there is a conviction, would not exceed six years in prison. The judiciary instituted new court rules and procedures for case processing that limit postponements of hearings and made other procedural changes to expedite case processing.


The law requires that all persons accused of crimes be informed of the charges against them, and grants rights to counsel, adequate time to prepare a defense, and a speedy and public trial before a judge. The law presumes defendants are innocent. They have the right to confront witnesses against them, be present at their trial, present evidence in their favor, review government evidence, appeal convictions, and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The government generally implemented these requirements, except for the right to a speedy trial.

Although the law provides that cases should be resolved within three months to two years, depending on the court, trials effectively had no time limits. Government officials estimated it took an average of five to six years to obtain a conviction.

Authorities respected a defendant’s right to representation by a lawyer, but poverty often inhibited access to effective legal counsel. The Public Attorney’s Office, which reports to the DOJ, did not have the necessary resources to fulfill its constitutional mandate, and used its limited resources to represent indigent defendants at trial rather than during arraignments or pretrial hearings. During the latter, courts may appoint any lawyer present in the courtroom to provide on-the-spot counsel to the accused.

Sentencing decisions were not always consistent with legal guidelines, and judicial decisions sometimes appeared arbitrary.


Under law enacted in 1945, the government defines political prisoners as those who may be accused of any crime against national security. Using this definition, BuCor reported 216 political prisoners in its facilities as of September. Unlike in previous years, the BJMP indicated it no longer tracks political prisoners and only defines prisoners based on security risk.

Various human rights NGOs maintained lists of incarcerated persons they considered political prisoners. The TFDP was tracking 342 political detainees as of July. The majority of those tracked were pretrial detainees, 19 of whom had been arrested in the past year. The TFDP noted that, in the majority of cases, authorities mixed political prisoners with the general inmate population, except in the National Bilibid Prison, where they held the majority of political prisoners in maximum security facilities.

The government used NGO lists as one source of information in the conduct of its pardon, parole, and amnesty programs. The TFDP reported that 31 political prisoners had been released from prisons or detention centers as of July. None of these releases resulted from executive action (pardons or amnesties). In August the government temporarily released 19 individuals from detention to participate in peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed affiliates. Most of those detained had been arrested for violent crimes, but were considered “political consultants” by the CPP.

The government permitted regular access to alleged political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations.


The judiciary is independent and impartial in civil matters. Complainants have access to local trial courts to seek civil damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for civil complaints, although overburdened local courts often dismissed these cases. There were no regional human rights tribunals that could hear an appeal from the country.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The government generally respected the privacy of its citizens, although leaders of communist and leftist organizations and rural-based NGOs alleged routine surveillance and harassment. Authorities routinely relied on informer systems to obtain information on terrorist suspects and for the antidrug campaign. Although the government generally respected restrictions on search and seizure within private homes, searches without warrants continued to occur. Judges generally declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissible. Human rights groups reported that the PNP arrested four farmers in Bulacan in October after illegally searching a residence with no warrant.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflicts

For decades the country has contended with armed Muslim separatist movements supported by paramilitary organizations such as the MILF and the MNLF, a communist insurgency supported by a nationwide NPA presence, and violence by smaller, transnational terrorist organizations (such as the ASG and the JI), and criminal syndicates. During the year there were continued complaints that the AFP, in confronting the ASG and NPA, illegally detained citizens and displaced residents. Additionally, interclan “rido” (feuds) violence continued in Mindanao, causing civilian deaths and displacement.

Killings: Unlike previous years, the AFP did not confirm any civilian deaths in military operations against insurgent groups, and there were similarly no media reports of civilian casualties.

Antigovernment groups were responsible for civilian deaths. The NPA and Muslim separatists, including the ASG, elements of the MILF, and the breakaway faction BIFF, used roadside bombs, ambushes, and other means to kill political figures and other civilians, including persons suspected of being military and police informers. On September 3, a bombing in a night market in Davao City killed 15 civilians and wounded many others. The attack was initially attributed to the ASG, which did not claim responsibility for the attack.

Antigovernment insurgents also menaced government offices and attacked or threatened businesses, power stations, farms, and private communication facilities to enforce collection of extortion payments, so-called revolutionary taxes.

Abductions: Various armed criminal and terrorist groups, including the ASG in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, continued to kidnap civilians. The NPA and some separatist groups were responsible for a number of arbitrary detentions, including kidnappings and hostage-taking for ransom.

Authorities facilitated ransom payments or attempted to rescue victims. From January to August, the PNP investigated 18 kidnap-for-ransom cases allegedly perpetrated by the ASG and other kidnap-for-ransom groups involving 26 victims.

In April and June, the ASG beheaded two Canadian hostages originally abducted in 2015. Two other persons abducted at the same time were released in July and September. The ASG also beheaded a Filipino hostage in August. Other Indonesian, Malaysian, and Filipino hostages were released following ransom payments, escaped, or were rescued by security forces.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Leftist and human rights activists continued to report harassment by local security forces, including abuse of detainees by police and prison officials. Rape was not generally used as a weapon of war.

Child Soldiers: The use of child soldiers, particularly by terrorist and antigovernment organizations, remained a problem. The United Nations, through its local UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) agency, monitored the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts and the release of child soldiers. UNICEF reported in December that the MILF implemented commitments to end the use of child soldiers and had released at least 175 child soldiers since January. Government reporting mechanisms on child soldiers were marred by inconsistencies between agencies and regions, especially in conflict-affected areas, which made it difficult to evaluate the problem’s scope. From January to August, the AFP Human Rights Office reported that 19 NPA child soldiers had either been rescued by or surrendered to the AFP.

The NPA continued to claim that it did not recruit children as combatants, but admitted that it recruited, trained, and used them for noncombat purposes.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report atwww.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately or discuss matters of general public interest. Civil society organizations reported, however, that President Duterte’s public attacks on individuals and international bodies who have criticized his policies had a chilling effect on free speech and expression. In one example, President Duterte made public accusations against Senator Leila De Lima, before formal government investigations had taken place, alleging that she benefitted from narcotics trafficking during her tenure as Commissioner of Human Rights and Secretary of Justice. The Department of Justice subsequently launched an investigation into the accusations. Duterte’s allegations came at the same time that De Lima began hearings into alleged extrajudicial killings in the government’s antidrug campaign as chairperson of the senate committee on justice and human rights. In September she was voted out of her seat as chairperson of the committee only days after calling a witness to testify to President Duterte’s direct involvement in alleged extrajudicial killings during his time as mayor of Davao. Her replacement, Senator Richard Gordon, was elected as an independent but was considered a Duterte ally. The hearings concluded on October 13 with Gordon acknowledging the large number of killings but concluding that there was no proof of Duterte’s personal involvement. As of November 21, the Department of Justice continued to investigate De Lima’s alleged ties to illegal narcotics but has not found sufficient evidence to file a criminal indictment.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, including criticism of the government, despite critical and threatening comments from government leaders. Media commentators criticized most media outlets for lacking rigorous journalistic standards and for reflecting the particular political or economic orientations of owners, publishers, or patrons, some of whom were close associates of present or past high-level officials. Observers suspected special interests of using bribes and other inducements to solicit one-sided and erroneous reports and commentaries that supported their positions.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists faced harassment and threats of violence, including from politicians and government authorities critical of their reporting. In April then candidate Duterte drew widespread criticism after he told the media that journalists should enjoy no special protections and could be “assassinated” if they were “corrupt” and took money from politicians. Human rights NGOs frequently criticized the government for failing to protect journalists.

The nongovernmental Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) reported that two journalists or media workers were killed between January and August in killings related to their profession; both cases were under investigation. The PNP’s Task Force Usig, which investigates and tracks killings of media practitioners, did not classify these cases as work-related killings and reported no media killings as of September.

On December 19, unknown gunmen killed a noted columnist and publisher in Catanduanes a few days after the journalist published an article blaming the local government for negligence after a large methamphetamine laboratory was raided by authorities. The National Bureau of Investigation was scheduled to lead an investigation into the journalist’s death.

Many journalists reported an uptick in online threats, including threats of violence and harassment, in response to articles posted online that were critical of the government. Journalists critical of the government reported that they did not yet feel that threats to their personal safety were credible but they were concerned about losing access to the president and presidential palace if they were seen as overly critical.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law contains criminal sanctions for libel. Authorities used criminal defamation charges, which carry the possibility of imprisonment and fines, to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against journalists. In April the CMFR reported that a municipal mayoral candidate and a suspended assistant prosecutor had filed criminal libel cases against several journalists. In September an appeals court also upheld a ruling in favor of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile against two reporters from the Philippines Daily Inquirer, who wrote an article in 2001 indicating that a coconut levy settlement allowed the senator to keep money plundered during the Marcos era. Enrile was awarded damages for mental anguish, serious anxiety, and social humiliation.


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communication without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available and used. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 52 percent of the population used the internet in during the year.


There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association


The police generally exhibited professionalism and restraint in dealing with demonstrators. The PNP’s forcible dispersal of farmers and protesters at a large protest in Kidapawan City on April 1 left two protesters dead, four critically wounded, and many others less seriously injured, drawing significant media attention and prompting a full investigation by the CHR. PNP officers fired on the drought-affected farmers and protesters who had gathered to demand food assistance from the local government. The CHR investigation found that PNP authorities abused their authority and used unnecessary force to disperse the protest. As of September, the case was still under preliminary investigation by the PNP. No disciplinary action was taken and no charges were filed.


The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: Government limits on foreign travel were generally based on security or personal safety factors, such as when a citizen had a pending court case, or to discourage travel by vulnerable workers to countries where they would face personal security risks, including trafficking or other exploitation. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration manages departures for work abroad and requires overseas workers to register and receive pre-departure screening, training, and certification before traveling. As of September, 23 countries were considered restricted, with either full or partial deployment bans for overseas workers.


Decades of sectarian and political insurgency, sporadic interclan fighting, and natural disasters have generated significant internal displacement. The number of IDPs was uncertain, and fluctuated widely during the year. Counter-insurgency campaigns against the ASG, primarily in Sulu and Basilan Provinces, and clashes with the NPA, concentrated in the most geographically remote provinces, caused sporadic and small-scale displacement. Most IDPs were women and children.

In Mindanao, UNHCR reported that as of July, 159,541 persons displaced since 2012 remained in need of durable solutions. Of those individuals, 83,162 were displaced by armed conflict (including violence between local communities) and 76,379 by natural disasters.

Government agencies, often with support from UN agencies and other international donors, provided food (although NGOs noted that food aid was sometimes delayed); constructed shelters and public infrastructure; repaired schools; built sanitation facilities; offered immunization, health, and social services; and provided cash assistance and skills training for IDPs. The government permitted humanitarian organizations access to IDP sites. Security forces sometimes carried out military operations near IDP sites, posing a risk of casualties and damage and restricting freedom of movement. Impoverished IDPs were highly susceptible to human trafficking networks. Additionally, despite a government policy of free public education, significant numbers of children in displaced families were unable to attend school because of unofficial school fees and transportation expenses.

At times the government encouraged IDPs to return home, but they were often reluctant to do so for security or welfare reasons.


Access to Asylum: No comprehensive legislation provides for granting refugee status or asylum. The Department of Justice’s Refugee and Stateless Persons Protections Unit (RSPPU) determines which asylum seekers qualify as refugees in accordance with an established, accessible system that appeared to provide basic due process.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to assist refugee transit through the country pursuant to a Department of Foreign Affairs-UNHCR memorandum of agreement. UNHCR recorded the transit of 15 refugees between January and August.

Employment: The government allowed refugees to work. A Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) order affirmed refugees’ and stateless persons’ access to work permits. Since 2013 the Bureau of Immigration has provided temporary work permits for persons with pending applications for recognition as refugee and/or stateless status upon endorsement by the RSPPU. The types of employment open to refugees and stateless persons were generally the same as those open to other legal aliens.


The DOJ was responsible for statelessness determinations of persons born in the country and of newly arrived persons. According to revised rules, after an applicant files for a determination of statelessness, deportation or exclusion proceedings against the applicant and dependents are suspended and the applicant may be released from detention. Stateless persons may be naturalized. As of August there were no known cases of social discrimination against stateless persons.

In 2012-13, UNHCR and the government undertook a survey of persons of Indonesian descent at risk of statelessness in Southern Mindanao. The survey identified 4,260 possibly stateless persons out of an estimated total of 6,040 persons of Indonesian descent. In 2014 the Philippine and Indonesian governments issued a joint declaration reaffirming the provision of consular assistance to both documented and undocumented migrants of Indonesian descent. After four phases of registration, the project has registered 8,745 such persons, of whom 664 had their citizenship confirmed in March.

As of June, three stateless persons were classified as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government by secret ballot in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised this ability. Candidates, including for the presidency, frequently had their legal right to run for office challenged by political opponents on the basis of criminality, citizenship, or other disqualifying conditions. These cases were sometimes pursued to the Supreme Court. Political candidates were allowed to substitute themselves for placeholders if unable to complete the registration process on time.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country conducted nationwide elections in May for president, both houses of congress, provincial governors, and local government officials. Barangay, or village-level, elections were scheduled for October, but were delayed for one year. International and national observers viewed the May elections as generally free and fair but reported that instances of vote buying were widespread and that dynastic political families continued to monopolize elective offices. The PNP reported isolated incidents of election-related violence during the campaign and on election day, but overall security incidents were few compared to many previous elections. Between January 10 and May 8 (the official election period), the PNP recorded 146 “election incident concerns,” of which 28 were validated by the PNP as election-related. There were 67 victims in the cases, including 50 deaths. The AFP National Election Monitoring Center reported 22 election-related violent incidents during the May 9 election that led to 10 deaths and the wounding of three.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no restrictions in law or practice on participation by women and members of minorities in politics, and participation by these groups has not changed significantly since the last national election in 2010 or the mid-term elections held in 2013.

Political life is male-dominated and observers commented that some female politicians served as “placeholders” when male members of their dynastic political families had to leave office due to term limits. Media commentators also expressed concern that political dynasties limited the opportunities for female candidates not connected to political families to seek nomination.

There were no Muslim or indigenous cabinet members or senators, but there were 11 Muslim members of the House of Representatives, mostly from Muslim-majority provinces, and one member of indigenous descent in the House of Representatives. Muslims, indigenous groups, and others maintained that electing senators from a nationwide list favored established political figures from the Manila area. They advocated election of senators by region, which would require a constitutional amendment.

The law provides for a party-list system, designed to ensure the representation of marginalized and under-represented sectors of society, for 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement these laws effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: To combat corruption, the constitution establishes the independent Office of the Ombudsman, an appellate-level anticorruption court (the Sandiganbayan), and a Commission on Audit. All three organizations were under-resourced but actively collaborated with the public and civil society and appeared to operate independently and use their limited resources effectively. Despite government efforts to file charges and obtain convictions in a number of cases, officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with relative impunity.

Investigation of allegations continued in the expanding “pork barrel” scandal of 2014 about the diversion of congressional funds t

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