KASAMA Vol. 18 No. 4 / October-November-December 2004 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network


Huge challenges confronted the international human rights movement in 2003. The UN faced a crisis of legitimacy and credibility because of the US-led war on Iraq and the organization's inability to hold states to account for gross human rights violations. International human rights standards continued to be flouted in the name of the "war on terror", resulting in thousands of women and men suffering unlawful detention, unfair trial and torture - often solely because of their ethnic or religious background. Around the world, more than a billion people's lives were ruined by extreme poverty and social injustice while governments continued to spend freely on arms.


DEATH PENALTY: retentionist


Attempts to revive peace talks with Muslim separatists in Mindanao made little progress following a military offensive, which sparked mass displacement of civilians and increased tension related to alleged Islamist "terrorist" bombings. Arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" were reported in the context of operations against suspected Islamist "terrorists", Muslim separatists and communist insurgents. Weaknesses in the criminal justice system made criminal suspects, including women and children, vulnerable to ill-treatment or torture and denial of fair trial safeguards. A moratorium on executions for convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers was lifted. Armed opposition groups were responsible for abuses, including killings and hostage-taking.


Following bomb attacks by suspected Islamist "terrorists" in Mindanao in March and April, the government pledged to step up the "war on terror" through legislative "counter-terrorist" measures and military action. In July a mutiny by over 300 soldiers who occupied part of Manila's business district, allegedly as a prelude to a coup attempt, heightened concerns over wider political and economic instability. The soldiers surrendered and were charged with rebellion. Growing public unease over rising crime rates, especially high-profile kidnappings for ransom, and an abortive attempt by an opposition group in Congress to impeach the Chief Justice for alleged corruption, further exacerbated political tensions. Political manoeuvring in advance of the 2004 presidential elections accelerated as President Arroyo announced in October that she would seek re-election.


Attempts to revive peace talks with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) faltered throughout the year. Following clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and MILF forces around Pikit (central Mindanao) in February, and amid accusations that the MILF were harbouring criminals responsible for kidnappings, the AFP launched an offensive against nearby MILF camps and communities. Over 200 people were reported to have been killed in the fighting and over 40,000 civilians were displaced. Following the offensive the MILF launched sporadic attacks on communities and infrastructure. Scores of civilians were reportedly killed. In July the two sides agreed cease-fire arrangements, but progress towards a resumption of peace talks, to be mediated by Malaysia, was slowed by periodic armed clashes. Government concerns that the MILF maintained links with a regional "terrorist" network, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), believed responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, also impeded progress.


At least 38 civilians were killed in two bombings in Davao city, eastern Mindanao, in March and April. Officials announced that the MILF and JI may have been responsible, and President Arroyo declared a "state of lawlessness" in the city. In subsequent police sweeps, at least 12 Muslim suspects were reportedly arrested without warrants in Davao and Cotabato and held incommunicado for extended periods. There were fears that some were tortured or ill-treated by the Philippine National Police (PNP) seeking confessions and information.

  • In separate incidents in April following the Davao bombings, Muslim community leader Datu Abdullah Sabudura and Islamic teacher Zulkifle Alimmudin were abducted by unidentified armed men. Relatives believed their abductors were members of the PNP. Their fate and whereabouts remained unknown.
  • In October a court ordered the release of 14 Muslim civilians who had been arrested on Basilan island, southern Mindanao, in 2001, charged with kidnapping, and subsequently transferred to a jail near Manila. The detainees were among at least 28 men arrested during AFP sweeps against Muslim communities on Basilan suspected of sympathizing with the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim separatist group responsible for kidnappings and killings. Many of the detainees alleged they were tortured during incommunicado detention, including by being beaten, burned with cigarettes and assaulted with pliers. Complaints of torture failed to result in charges being filed against the alleged AFP perpetrators.

    Peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), remained largely stalled. Progress was impeded by the 2002 designation of the CPP-NPA as a "terrorist" organization by the Philippine, US and some European Union governments. However, informal talks on restarting formal negotiations took place in Norway in October and November.

    Scattered clashes between AFP and NPA units continued throughout the year. Alleged NPA members were vulnerable to human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, "disappearance", torture and extrajudicial execution. Also at risk were members of legal leftist organizations suspected by the AFP of being sympathetic to the NPA.

  • In April, leftist activists Eden Marcellena, a local leader of the human rights group Karapatan, and Eddie Gumaloy, a peasant leader, were abducted and killed in Mindoro Oriental by alleged members of a vigilante group reportedly linked to the AFP. A senior AFP officer was transferred pending investigations of AFP suspects. Amid reports of witness intimidation, no charges were reported to have been filed by the end of the year.
  • In November human rights groups welcomed the decision by Davao city prosecutors to file murder charges against AFP and militia personnel accused of killing Karapatan activist Benjaline Hernandez and three peasant activists in 2002. AFP officials had claimed that the activists were killed during an armed clash with the NPA.
  • The CPP-NPA committed human rights abuses. In January the CPP-NPA claimed responsibility for killing former senior CPP-NPA leader Romulo Kintanar in Manila for "criminal and counter-revolutionary" activities. In November NPA forces reportedly abducted and killed two villagers near Bananga (Mindanao) whom they suspected of assisting the AFP.


    Procedural weaknesses in the administration of criminal justice, including unlawful arrests without warrants by the PNP, and lack of access to lawyers and doctors during extended periods of "custodial investigation" before the filing of charges, continued to facilitate the use of torture or ill-treatment to coerce confessions. Intimidation and torture continued to undermine complaints procedures and fair trial safeguards. Those vulnerable after arrest included alleged members of armed opposition groups and ordinary criminal suspects, including women and children. Campaigning by a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused attention on legislative initiatives criminalizing acts of torture and further safeguarding the rights of detainees. However, the legal reforms had not been passed by Congress by the end of the year.

  • In August the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) upheld the complaint of construction worker Paterno Pitulan. He was arrested in June during a criminal investigation by PNP officers and reportedly tortured, including by suffocation with plastic bags and electric shocks. The PCHR recommended that public prosecutors file charges against four PNP officers related to causing physical injuries.


    Despite an array of laws and safeguards specifically designed to protect children in custody, defects in the juvenile justice system continued to facilitate abuses, including torture and ill-treatment. Children were detained with adults in overcrowded facilities, exposing child detainees to abuse by other prisoners. Children were also denied prompt access to social workers, lawyers and families following arrest, and suffered lengthy delays before being brought before a judge and before their trials were concluded. The lack of a requirement to establish the age of a child on arrest continued to lead to inappropriate sentencing and treatment.


    Despite plans by government agencies to improve the protection of women in detention, women continued to be at risk of rape, sexual assault and other forms of torture and ill-treatment. Investigations into such violations were inadequate and rarely resulted in prosecutions. Domestic violence continued to be widespread: the lack of a law criminalizing domestic violence continued to limit legal recourse for violence in the home. A bill criminalizing domestic violence remained pending before Congress.


    In November, President Arroyo declared that a moratorium against executions (announced in 2002 pending congressional consideration of bills abolishing the death penalty) would be lifted with regard to convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers. More than 1,916 people had been sentenced to death since capital punishment was restored in 1993 and seven men executed. The President had previously rejected calls for executions to resume as a response to public concerns over increased criminality, especially kidnappings for ransom. She said that broad-based institutional reform of the PNP and the criminal justice system offered a more effective means to confront and deter criminality.

    At least seven young offenders remained under sentence of death for offences committed when they were under the age of 18, even though the law makes clear that child offenders cannot be sentenced to death or executed. They were transferred off death row in 2002, but their cases had yet to be reviewed by the lower courts or their death sentences commuted.

  • In November the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) found that the denial of fair trial safeguards and the treatment in detention of Albert Wilson, who had been sentenced to death for rape in 1998 and detained on death row before being acquitted by the Supreme Court in 1999, amounted to violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


    In October the Philippines presented its consolidated second and third periodic reports to the HRC on its implementation of the ICCPR. The Committee expressed concern at reports of cases of grave human rights violations that had not been investigated or prosecuted, thus encouraging a culture of impunity, and of threats and intimidation impeding the right to an effective remedy. In relation to persistent reports of torture, the Committee called for an effective system of monitoring of all detainees; prompt investigations of complaints by an independent authority; and for the guarantee in practice of free access to lawyers and doctors immediately after arrest and at all stages of detention. Other recommendations included more effective laws and measures to protect children, especially in detention, and to prevent trafficking of women and children. The Committee expressed concern at the vague definitions and broad scope of "counter-terrorism" legislative proposals. It also called for greater protection for indigenous peoples.


    Within the context of a vibrant free press, seven journalists were killed during the year. Most of the killings were believed to be related to broadcasts or articles seen as exposing alleged corruption or criticizing local political, business or criminal interests. Despite government offers of rewards for information leading to the arrest of suspects, investigations into the killings had not made significant progress by the end of the year.


    AI delegates visited the Philippines in May, liaising with the NGO coalition against torture and conducting research.

    THE AI 2004 INTERNATIONAL REPORT documents the human rights situation in 155 countries and territories in 2003, and summarizes regional trends. It reports on the priority areas of AI's work - such as violence against women; economic, social and cultural rights; justice; protection of refugees and migrants - and celebrates the achievements of activists.

    Price: US$21.95 (print or CD version)
    Date Published: 26/05/2004
    AI Index: POL 10/004/2004

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    This extract from the AI 2004 report is available online at
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