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Asia-Pacific : Philippines
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES
Philippines: Sharp rise in �vigilante� killings as human rights activist�s death remains unsolved
(AI Index: ASA 35/001/2005)
Scores of leftist activists were killed by unidentified assailants, often reportedly linked to the armed forces. Peace talks between the government and armed groups � Muslim separatists in Mindanao and communist rebels � made limited or no progress. Arbitrary arrests, unlawful killings, torture and �disappearances� were reported in the context of military counter-insurgency operations. Armed groups were responsible for abuses including hostage-taking. Complaints procedures, investigations and criminal prosecutions of suspected perpetrators of human rights violations were often ineffective. Criminal suspects in custody, including women and children, were at risk of torture or ill-treatment by police. Death sentences were imposed but no executions were carried out.
In June, allegations that President Arroyo was linked to vote-rigging and corruption during the 2004 elections heightened political tensions. In July, amid calls for mass public protests, 10 members of her Cabinet resigned. President Arroyo denied the allegations and, responding to the crisis, called for constitutional reforms including change from a presidential to a federal parliamentary system. In September an opposition motion to impeach the President was defeated in Congress.
Communist insurgency and the peace process
Peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People�s Army (NPA), remained suspended. In order to resume talks, the NDF called on the government to work for the removal of the NPA�s designation as a �Foreign Terrorist Organization� by the USA and its allies. With the peace process stalled, the Joint Monitoring Commission (JMC), set up to examine complaints of human rights abuses and breaches of humanitarian laws by both sides, failed to make significant progress. Previous government pledges to release listed political prisoners remained only partially implemented. At least 251 political prisoners detained within the context of anti-insurgency operations were reported still held.
NPA attacks on government targets and clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and NPA units continued throughout 2005. Suspected NPA members and their supporters were subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and �disappearances�.
The number of attacks on leftist activists and community workers rose sharply, with at least 66 fatal shootings reported during 2005. Most of the attacks were carried out by unidentified assailants on motorcycles, at times wearing face masks, who were often described as �vigilantes� or hired killers allegedly linked to AFP members.
As well as suspected CPP-NPA members, those most at risk included members of legal leftist political parties, including Bayan Muna (People First) and Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), other human rights and community activists, priests, church workers and lawyers regarded by the authorities as sympathetic to the broader communist movement. Increased killings in particular provinces were reportedly linked to the public labelling of leftist groups as NPA �front� organizations by local AFP commanders.
A climate of impunity shielding the perpetrators of such killings deepened as ineffective investigations failed to lead to the prosecution of those responsible. In many cases witnesses were reportedly too frightened to testify.
Mindanao peace process
Despite periodic breaches, the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Muslim secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), monitored by military observers from Malaysia and Brunei, was maintained in Mindanao. Intermittent informal peace talks continued.
In August, the MILF boycotted local elections for the five-province Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), set up in 1990 and whose administration was headed by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leaders following a peace agreement in 1996. Former MNLF members and members of the Muslim separatist armed group Abu Sayyaf were reportedly involved in periodic clashes with the AFP. Fighting on Jolo island in February led to the displacement of over 25,000 civilians.
Reports indicated that Abu Sayaff and renegade MNLF and MILF members were involved in kidnappings for ransom.
Administration of justice
Public confidence in the ability of the authorities to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations of human rights violations and other crimes, and to deliver justice, remained fragile.
Implementation of fair trial and custodial safeguards remained weak, and criminal suspects were at risk of ill-treatment or torture by the Philippine National Police (PNP) during extended periods of �investigative� detention. Intimidation, aggravated by a lack of effective witness protection programmes, undermined the ability of victims of human rights abuses to gain redress, especially when they were members of poor or marginalized communities.
Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system contributed to an apparent public tolerance of killings of suspected criminals, including alleged petty thieves and street-children, by unidentified �vigilantes� allegedly linked to municipal authorities and the PNP. More than 90 such killings were reported in Cebu city and at least 100 in Davao city.
Journalists were also at risk of armed attacks with at least seven killed by unidentified assailants, reportedly because of their work. In November, in a rare conviction, a policeman was found guilty and given a life sentence for murdering a radio broadcaster in 2002.
Despite an array of legislative and procedural safeguards, minors in detention continued to be at risk of physical or sexual abuse and poor prison conditions. Children were at times detained with adults in overcrowded facilities and exposed to abuse from other prisoners.
Inhumane prison conditions also affected adult male and female prisoners and incidents of excessive use of force by the authorities were reported.
Amid continuing concerns about failures to uphold fair trial standards, death sentences were imposed throughout 2005. A total of 1,214 inmates were under sentence of death at the end of 2005. No executions took place as President Arroyo continued to issue a series of reprieves for prisoners whose sentences had been confirmed by the Supreme Court and were facing imminent execution. Bills calling for the repeal of death penalty legislation were considered by Congressional committees.
Despite continuing reviews of their sentences by the lower courts, at least 22 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.
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