Human Rights in the Republic of the Philippines

20/02/2008
Press release

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)

Submission for the first session of the Universal Periodic Review
7-18 April 2008

Republic of the Philippines

Increasing allegations that the Filipino government’s fight against terrorism causes specific human rights violations, combined with the recent adoption of a new anti-terrorism law led the FIDH to send three independent experts to carry out a fact finding mission in the country. FIDH benefited from the support of its national member, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA). The preliminary conclusions of the mission are very worrying: it appears that torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings are common practice in the Philippines in the context of the “war on terror” condoned by the USA. 1

Mandate of the fact finding mission

The mandate of the FIDH mission was to examine whether the Filipino government abides by its commitments to respect international human rights standards while fighting terrorism, in particular the absolute prohibition on torture.

The situation is increasingly tense in the fight against terrorism in the Philippines

For decades, the Filipino government has been facing self-determination claims by the MNLF and the MILF in the southern island of Mindanao. Another armed group, the New People’s Army (NPA), of Marxist ideology, has also been fighting the government for more than 30 years. More recently, the armed groups Abu Sayyaf and Jamaah Islamiyah have appeared in the southwestern part of the country particularly in Zamboanga Peninsula in the island of Mindanao. They claimed responsible for the series of kidnap for ransom activities, sporadic bombings of public places e.g. markets and parks.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the President Arroyo administration acceded to US President Bush request to join the “war against terror”. One of the consequences was the entering into force (on July 15, 2007) of an anti-terror law, called the Human Security Act. This law has already been highly criticised by the human rights community.2

In September 2007, the beheading of 10 Filipino soldiers on the southern island of Basilan, allegedly perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group, further increased dangerous tensions, leading to the displacement of numerous persons. Two thousand, two hundred ninety three (2,293) families/residents from eight (8) barangays of Albarka, three (3) barangays of Sumisip and two (2) barangays of Tipo-tipo were dislocated from eight barangays of Tipo-tipo upon the hot pursuit operations conducted by the Philippine Marine personnels on July 29 and 31, 2007.

The preliminary results of the FIDH mission show that the practice of torture and ill treatment is widely used against individuals suspected of being “terrorists”.

Testimonies collected by the mission confirm that torture occurs in most cases when the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) arrest someone suspected of terrorism or of being an “enemy of the State”. Certain persons, met by FIDH, spoke about a “culture of torture” within the AFP, or mentioned that torture “accompany every military operation”.

In most cases, torture occurs during the investigation, between the moment of the arrest and the transfer of the suspects to jail or “safe houses”. Victims met by the mission unanimously pointed to the responsibility of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), or to the National Police of Philippines (PNP). Sometimes, torture is reportedly practised by civilian auxiliaries particularly the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) and the Civilian Volunteers Organizations (CVO) under the control of the AFP.

In the majority of the cases, victims are arrested without a warrant and with no explanation, blindfolded and handcuffed before being brought to a military camp or a secret location, where they are forced to admit that they are members of “terrorist groups” like the Abu Sayyaf Group or the NPA. The majority of the persons arrested are punched on the chest, beaten with rifles and threatened with death. Certain victims interviewed reported suffocation with a plastic bag, electrocution, deprivation of sleep and threats against relatives. Suspects are often required to sign a testimony under duress before being brought to a prosecutor. Time in custody varies between three days and several weeks. Victims are afterwards imprisoned, waiting several years pending trial, as the judiciary is very slow. Torture does not seem to occur in jail, even if overpopulation makes detention conditions precarious.

The case of the Brothers Manalo (Raymond and Reynaldo), who were forcibly abducted on 14 February 2006 in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, and have now surfaced after having escaped from their captors on 13 August 2007. Their narration of torture3 during their captivity confirms that torture is presumably regular in the process of arrest or abduction by the military or police.

The Filipino government is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as to the UN Convention against Torture (CAT). As such, it committed itself to respect the absolute prohibition of torture. Nevertheless, torture is not criminalised under Filipino domestic law. In addition, it is the victim of acts of torture who bears the burden of proof when a case is filed for aggravated injury.

Extrajudicial killings seem more frequently reported than cases of torture.

Medical reports are often non-existent or so vague that it is impossible to determine either the cause of the death, or whether the victim was tortured. Doctors and witnesses are regularly threatened by the perpetrators.

The AFP introduced the FIDH mission to the different mechanisms and initiatives put in place to cope with the respect of human rights.

FIDH seriously doubts that such mechanisms are being effectively implemented, as very few perpetrators of extrajudicial killings (and no high-ranking officials) have been prosecuted so far, whereas the estimates vary from 100 to 800 or more extra-judicial killings in the Philippines since 2001.4 This extremely worrying situation raises the question of the efficiency of the judiciary on the one hand, and of the political will to prosecute the perpetrators on the other. Impunity prevails as lawyers taking up cases against members of the army or the police are generally harassed and threatened. The witnesses and the relatives of victims suffer the same, if not killed5. Institutions in charge of investigating cases are mostly the same institutions harbouring the alleged perpetrators of the crime.

The inefficiency of the government “Witness Protection Programme” is referred to as the main reason why victims and witnesses are reluctant to show up. In addition, many victims do not trust the judiciary at all. Beyond the lack of resources, judges and lawyers are reportedly victims themselves of pressures or of extrajudicial killings.6 This contributes to a “culture of impunity”, which condones the perpetration of further human rights violations.

The entry into force of the anti-terrorism law (so-called “Human Security Act”) last July could lead to an increase in the number of acts of torture and extra-judicial killings in the framework of the fight against terrorism, despite the disposals of the new legislation on human rights guarantees in the framework of state action against terrorism.

This law, passed under strong US influence, notably provides for a very vague definition of the crime of terrorism and gives the authorities the power to “list” terrorist organisations. Those provisions are likely to encourage more arbitrary arrests. Further, the Act gives extensive power to the Executive, mainly through the newly established “Anti-Terrorism Council”; the accountability for human rights violations of this body is not addressed at all. In addition, arrest without warrant and detention with limited judicial control are extended, whereas it is precisely in such circumstances that torture occurs.

Some officials interviewed by the mission said that the Human Security Act is not likely to be used in practice. The main reason is that it contains a number of provisions to prevent abuse by the army and the police; in particular, 500,000.00 PhP a day (approximately 12,500 US dollars) shall be paid to the person charged of terrorism upon his acquittal or the dismissal of the charges against him.7 Prosecution may consequently keep relying upon the Revised Penal Code to avoid facing such risks. Members of civil society expressed deep concern that this provision could have an adverse effect: members of the law enforcement agencies could prefer to kill the suspect instead of taking the risk of having to face the financial cost of an acquittal.

FIDH therefore calls on the Human Rights Council to ask the Philippine government:

1.Implement the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Committee to ensure that legislation adopted and measures taken to combat terrorism are consistent with provisions of the Covenant8. FIDH asks to repeal or at least revise the Human Security Act;
2.To ensure fair and public hearings by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law for all persons suspected of being “terrorists”, in a timely manner and in conformity with international human rights standards;
3.To carry out an independent investigation into the allegations of members of law enforcement agencies in extrajudicial killings, acts of torture and enforced disappearances, and to ensure that they are judged in conformity with fair trial standards;
4.To criminalise torture in the Philippine domestic legal order in accordance with Article 4 of the CAT and in line with Article II, Section 11 and Article III, Section 12 of the Philippine Constitution;
5.To ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
6.to criminalise enforced disappearances in the Philippine domestic legal order in conformity with Article 4 of the above mentioned convention;
7.to adequately compensate victims of acts of torture and their family, in conformity with Article 14 of the CAT and establish programmes for the reparation and rehabilitation of victims of torture;
8.To invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in the Philippines, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism;

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