Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Philippines

Torture and other ill-treatment by police continued in a climate of impunity for human rights violations. There were no convictions under laws criminalizing torture and enforced disappearances. Journalists, judges, lawyers and Indigenous Peoples were targeted and killed by unidentified gunmen and suspected militia. Progress towards realizing women’s sexual and reproductive rights was halting. Tens of thousands of victims of past human rights violations sought redress.

Background

Despite the 2014 peace accord between the government and the armed group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an encounter between police forces and rebel groups in Maguindanao in January resulted in the deaths of 44 elite police officers and 23 rebels. This stalled efforts to pass a landmark law creating an autonomous Bangsamoro region in the southern Philippines.

The Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board received 75,000 applications for compensation from victims of Martial Law, in force from 1972 to 1981 under the rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. In July, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of displaced persons raised a range of concerns following his visit, including on Indigenous Peoples displaced due to economic development activities.

Torture and other ill-treatment

The Senate conducted its first hearing on police torture in January and a second in December;1 the inquiry into the issue had been opened in December 2014.

Reports of torture continued, mostly citing police officers as perpetrators. Despite the criminalization of torture under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act, no perpetrators had been convicted under the Act by the end of 2015. Several criminal investigations and prosecutions were ongoing.

The national Commission on Human Rights recorded 51 cases of torture in 2014, involving 59 individuals. From January to September, it recorded 47 more cases involving 65 victims.

In May, the chief of police of Carmona, Cavite province, appeared in a video hitting a male detainee suspected of theft with a thick piece of wood. The incident was shown on national television, prompting the Philippine National Police (PNP) to dismiss him from his post.

After a year-long administrative investigation, the PNP found two police officers liable for the torture of Alfreda Disbarro in 2013 and demoted them by one rank.

The PNP initiated administrative investigations against police officers accused of torturing Jerryme Corre in 2012. There were continuing criminal prosecutions for torture in his case, as well as that of Darius Evangelista, tortured in 2010.

Cases arising from the 2014 discovery of a secret detention facility in Laguna province, in which police officers apparently used a “roulette wheel” to decide which torture method to use on detainees, remained at the preliminary investigation stage by the end of the year.

Enforced disappearances

Three years after the enactment of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Law in December 2012, there have been no convictions under the law.

Hearings continued in the trial of retired army General Jovito Palparan, charged with kidnapping and illegally detaining two women university students in 2006. General Palparan was arrested in 2014 and remanded in custody. In October, his attempt to temporarily leave his detention cell to register and run for the Senate was denied by the court.

Impunity

Hearings continued in the case of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, in which 58 people, including 32 media workers, were killed by state-armed militias allegedly led by government officials. It was feared that the trial would not conclude before the end of President Aquino’s term in June 2016. The case continued, despite efforts by the Supreme Court to expedite proceedings. Witnesses and their relatives remained at risk of being killed or intimidated, although 175 witnesses had testified and more than 100 of the 200 suspects had been arrested. At least eight witnesses and their family members were killed since November 2009, but no one was held accountable.

In August, assailants killed four men accused of raping and killing a 14-year-old girl in Marawi City. The suspects had been arrested but were released after no charges were filed. A local government official was quoted as saying the families of the suspects and of the victims agreed to the execution-style killing in order to avoid rido, or a family feud.

In September and November, three judges were shot dead in broad daylight. Erwin Alaba was killed outside his courtroom in Aurora while Wilfredo Nieves was killed inside his car in Bulacan on the way home. Reynaldo Espinar was killed in a cockpit in Northern Samar. Three lawyers were also shot dead in the second half of the year. Amelie Ocanada-Alegre was killed in August in Mandaue City while Ramon Eduardo Elesteria was shot in Bayawan City. Another lawyer, Pepito Suello, was killed in Bukidnon in October on his way to a hearing.

According to the International Association of People’s Lawyers, at least 25 judges and more than 80 lawyers have been murdered since 1999. While investigations have been conducted, no charges were reported to have been brought.

Freedom of expression

Seven journalists were killed in 2015. Newspaper reporter Nerlita Ledesma was shot near her house in Balanga City in January. In February, radio anchor Maurito Lim was shot outside a radio station in Tagbilaran City and newspaper reporter Melinda Magsino was shot in the head near her apartment in Batangas City in April.

In August, three journalists were killed in two weeks. Newspaper publisher Gregorio Ybanez was shot in front of his house in Tagum City. Radio anchor Teodoro Escanilla was also shot in front of his house in Sorsogon. Radio presenter Cosme Maestrado was shot by four gunmen in Ozamiz City. In October, another radio reporter, Jose Bernardo, was shot at close range by two unidentified gunmen.

According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, if the killings were found to be work-related, this would bring to 150 the number of journalists killed in the line of duty since 1986, when restrictions on freedom of expression were lifted after the end of the former President Marcos regime. Only 15 people had been convicted in connection with the killings of journalists by the end of 2015.

In September, the primary suspects in the 2011 killing of broadcaster and environmental advocate Gerardo Ortega were arrested in Thailand and extradited to the Philippines.

Abuses by armed militias

In September, three leaders of the Lumad, a group of Indigenous Peoples in southern Philippines, were killed in Surigao del Sur. Dionel Campos and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo were shot; Emerito Samarca, a school director, was hogtied and stabbed to death.

According to the Indigenous people’s party KATRIBU, 13 Lumads were killed and 4,000 evacuated in 2015 due to armed attacks by suspected militia, including the three killed in Surigao del Sur. The group recorded a total of 53 extrajudicial killings of Lumads during President Aquino’s administration since 2010. Human rights groups accused an armed militia allegedly trained by the military of being behind the killings.

UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples and on the situation of human rights defenders condemned the killings. Charges were filed against several suspects following an investigation by the Department of Justice.

Sexual and reproductive rights

Authorities implemented the Reproductive Health Law in November, three years after it was passed into law. However, a year after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law, which provides certain sexual/reproductive rights to women, it issued in June a temporary restraining order stopping the Department of Health from procuring, distributing and promoting contraceptive implants.

In May, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women found that the Philippines violated women’s human rights by denying them access to a full range of reproductive health services, including universal and affordable contraceptives.

  1. Philippines: Senate hearing should be first step to tackling endemic torture (News story, 12 January)