Human Rights in the Philippines

In the Philippines several hundred political activists and government critics have been killed since early 2001. Both, enforced disappearances and torture persist to be widely spread human rights violations. The human rights organization Karapatan counts a total of 1206 cases of political killings, 206 others have been abducted and disappeared during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo between 2001 and 2010.

When the son of democracy icons Benigno and Cory Aquino was elected President of the Philippines on 10 May 2010, human rights organizations inside and outside the country had high hopes of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, i.e. that he would improve the situation of human rights. Despite big promises, there is little change under the new government. Although the problem is now openly acknowledged, grave human rights violations continue to be committed by the Philippine police, the military, paramilitary units or private armies.

Political killings, abductions and repressions

As concerns international and national human rights legislation, the Philippines are exemplary in the region. The country has ratified almost all important international human rights treaties and is also a member of the International Criminal Court since 2011. On a national level there are numerous laws and institutions directed at facilitating human rights protection. However, the implementation of such treaties is weak and inefficient.
Severe human rights violations such as political killings, torture, unlawful detentions and abductions of activists, journalists, representatives of the clergy as well as local politicians are widespread. Furthermore, trumped-up charges and other attempts at intimidation are common phenomena that curtail the space for the critical political participation of the civil society.

Climate of impunity

Structural impunity is one of the main reasons for continued human rights violations. Human rights violations are hardly investigated by the police or even brought to court. Reasons for this are insufficient investigation techniques, deficient cooperation between public authorities and the scarce financial resources of the justice sector. Generally, the victims wait in vain for the detention or conviction of alleged perpetrators or suspected masterminds, who often are big landowners, politicians, or even members of the security forces. In the light of this, the citizens’ confidence in the rule of law is severely shattered. The work of non-government organisations and churches in support of justice and development is strongly obstructed by unresolved killings of their staff and that of members of people’s organisations. However, there are also non-government actors who commit human rights violations, notably members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) who commit political killings as means of “revolutionary justice.”

A dramatic example of political killings

The so-called Ampatuan massacre committed in the province of Maguindanao on November 23, 2009 has been the cruel climax of politically motivated killings. More than 50 people were murdered in an ambush related to a candidacy for governorship, among them at least 30 journalists. The powerful Ampatuan clan has received assistance in this ghastly deed from its private army and the local police.