The Philippines is an archipelago located 966 kilometres off the south-eastern coast of mainland Asia. It is composed of 7,107 islands with three major island groups: Luzon, with an area of 141,395 square kilometres; Visayas, with an area of 56,606 square kilometres.; and Mindanao, with an area of 101,999 square kilometres. Of the total land area, 92.3 per cent is found within the 11 largest islands. It has a land area of approximately 300,000 square kilometres. It is divided into 15 administrative regions with 76 provinces, 60 cities, 1,543 municipalities and 41,911 barangays (villages).
The Filipino is of Malay racial stock. The indigenous culture is a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish and American influence.
There are 110 ethno-linguistic groups in the country, which speak at least 70 recorded languages. There are eight major languages, with Filipino as the national language and Filipino and English as the official working languages.
Eighty-five per cent of Filipinos are Christians, the majority of whom are Roman Catholics. A little over 10 per cent of the population are followers of Islam and the rest belong to other denominations or sects.
As of 2005, the population of the Philippines was estimated at 88.5 million. Growing annually at 2.11 per cent, the population is projected to reach 102.8 million by 2015.
Population density is 246 persons per square kilometre and about half of the population is concentrated in urban centres all over the country. This is a result of the rapid urbanization caused mainly by the rural to urban migration.
General political structure
The Republic of the Philippines is a democratic and republican State with a presidential form of government.
Executive power is exercised by the President of the Philippines with the assistance of his Cabinet. The President is both the head of State and of the Government. The Vice-President assists the President in the performance of his duties and responsibilities and may also be appointed as the head of one of the executive departments.
Legislative power is vested in the Congress of the Philippines, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate is composed of 24 senators elected at large for a term of six years. The House of Representatives is composed of members elected from legislative districts and through a party-list system.
Judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court and lower courts. The decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all lower tribunals. The other courts under the Supreme Court are: the Court of Appeals, composed of 51 Justices with one Presiding Justice; Regional Trial Courts; the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts; and the Municipal Trial Courts established in every city not forming part of the metropolitan area.
The democratic structure and processes are further enhanced by the constitutional provisions on social justice and human rights, protection of labour, women and children and the strengthening of local autonomy of the local government units (LGUs). The Local Government Code of 1991 devolves the responsibility and budget for the delivery of basic services in agriculture, health, social welfare and development, public works, environment and natural resources to the LGUs.
At sub-national levels, governance is assumed by the local LGUs in each administrative area, i.e. province, city, municipality and barangay. Each local government office is composed of both elective and appointive officials. The elective officials include the head and vice-head in each administrative area, i.e. governor and vice-governor for the province, mayor and vice-mayor for the city and municipality, and chairman for the barangay; and as members of the councils, i.e. Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Council), Sangguniang Panlunsod (City Council) and Sangguniang Barangay (Village Council).
Legislative power at the sub-national levels is vested in the Sanggunian (Council) at each level. Each local government unit has a development council which assists the Sanggunian (Council) in formulating their respective comprehensive and multi-sectoral development plans.
The annual per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated at US$ 1,026 using 2004 nominal prices and exchange rate.
The Philippine economy grew despite adverse effects of international shockers. These included the 11 September 2001 bombing in New York, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) scare, which slowed down the tourism industry, and the United States-Iraq war, which dislocated overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East.
The country’s real Gross National Product (GNP) from 2001 to 2004 expanded at an average of 5.05 per cent while real GDP grew by an average of 4.52 per cent, which was within the target set during the same period. The services sector has been the engine of growth which expanded at an average rate of 5.62 per cent over the said period. The expansion could be attributed to the expansion of the telecommunication sector and the new investments in call centres, business process outsourcing and software development. Meanwhile, the trade sector also performed well due to strong consumer spending which was supported by the steady growth of the agriculture sector and remittances of overseas Filipino workers.
The agriculture sector grew at an average of 4.05 per cent over the period 2001-2004.
The industry sector experienced sluggish growth at a mere 3.4 per cent in 2001-2004. Growth has been limited by the large cuts in public construction to control the deficit as well as the difficulties of some manufacturing industries to keep up with global market. Moreover, the increase in foreign investments was minimal, from US$ 1.43 billion in 2002 to US$ 1.49 billion in 2003. The low foreign direct investments resulted from investor preference for China, weakening investor confidence due to concerns about fiscal sustainability, peace and order problems, and a weak infrastructure/logistics system.
Unemployment remained high at 10.9 per cent in October 2004 notwithstanding the 3.2 million jobs generated from 2001 to 2004. From January to July 2004, the average unemployment rate was 12 per cent as the number of jobs generated had not been adequate to absorb the influx of labor entrants.
Underemployment was a more serious problem since its magnitude was higher than that of the unemployment rate. Underemployment rate was 16.9 per cent in October 2004 of which 61 per cent was in the rural areas (NSCB, 2004). The seasonal nature of farm employment prompted workers to want more labour hours.
The fiscal deficit emerged as the major macroeconomic problem. The consolidated public sector deficit is 5.52 per cent of GDP while the Government deficit surged to 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2004. Consequently, the rising deficit pushed the public sector debt to 101 per cent of GDP by 2003.
The Government provides social services in the areas of health, nutrition, education, housing, safe water supply and sanitation. Basic services for children are a special concern. The Government is taking definitive steps to address human development concerns in an integrated manner, through the formulation of a social development framework which will guide the planning and programming of human development-related activities.
Starting in 1986, the Government has more explicitly focused on poverty alleviation as a goal of national development efforts. In 1988, poverty incidence among Filipinos was 45.5 per cent, 3.8 per centage points lower than it was in 1985. As of 2003, poverty incidence had gone down to 30.4 per cent.
The Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (1986), the Presidential Commission to Fight Poverty (1993), and the National Anti-Poverty Commission (2000) were established by the Government as agencies to engage in poverty alleviation and people empowerment.
General legal framework within which human rights are protected
Fundamental human rights have been an integral part of the Philippine Constitution. The Malolos Constitution adopted in 1898, the 1935, 1973, 1986 (also known as Freedom Constitution) and the 1987 Philippine Constitutions all contained a Bill of Rights. Two of the State policies embodied in the Constitution are respect for the dignity of every human person and protection of the basic civil and political rights of the people against State encroachment and abuses. The Bill of Rights specifically prohibits the use of torture, force, threat or intimidation or any other means which vitiates the free will of a person and mandates Congress to pass laws to compensate victims of torture.
1. Judicial, administrative and other authorities
competent in matters relating to human rights
The 1987 Constitution enumerates the basic human rights and the judiciary stands as the guardian and bulwark of such rights. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies are constitutionally mandated to protect human rights and freedoms of citizens; and ensure the security of the State and its people.
The 1987 Constitution created the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (PCHR). It is an independent constitutional body mandated to investigate, on its own or on the complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights; adopt its operational guidelines and rules of procedure and cite for contempt for violations thereof; provide legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines; provide for preventive measures and legal aid services to the underprivileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection; exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons or detention facilities and request the assistance of any government agency in the performance of its functions; establish a continuing programme of research, education and information to enhance respect for the primacy of human rights; recommend to Congress effective measures to promote human rights; monitor Government's compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights; and grant immunity from prosecution to any person whose testimony, or whose possession of documents or other evidence, is necessary or convenient to determine the truth in any investigation conducted by it, or under its authority.
The Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has jurisdiction over complaints against enlisted men. However, under Republic Act (RA) No. 7055, "An Act Strengthening Civilian Supremacy Over the Military By Returning to the Civil Courts the Jurisdiction Over Certain Offenses Involving Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines", members of the AFP, other persons subject to military law, including members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units, who commit crimes or offences penalized under the Revised Penal Code, and other special penal laws, regardless of whether or not civilians are co-accused, victims or offended parties, shall now be tried by the proper civil courts.
Republic Act No. 6975 specifies the administrative disciplinary machinery applicable to the members of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Complaints against any PNP member may be brought before any of the following: (a) chiefs of police, where the offense is punishable by the withholding of privileges, restrictions to specified limits, suspension of forfeiture of salary for a period not exceeding 15 days; (b) mayors of cities and municipalities, where the offense is similarly punishable for a period of not less than 16 days but not exceeding 30 days; (c) People’s Law Enforcement Board or PLEB where the offense is similarly punishable for a period exceeding 30 days or by dismissal.
2. Remedies available to individuals whose human rights had been violated
Under the Philippine Rules of Court, a person who has been unlawfully detained or deprived in any other manner of his liberty may file before any Regional Trial Court or the Court of Appeals or directly with the Supreme Court, a petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to obtain his temporary release.
An individual whose human rights were deemed violated may seek immediate assistance from the various government agencies concerned, such as but not limited to the following: PCHR; PNP; Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD),National Bureau of Investigation; Public Attorney's Office; Prosecutor's Office; Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, Office of the Solicitor General; Office of the Ombudsman or Tanodbayan; Presidential Anti-Crime Commission; Bureau of Jail Management and Penology for prisoners and other similar agencies.
The Revised Penal Code is considered as a public law which concerns public interest, except for those private crimes such as adultery and concubinage in which the intervention of the private offended party is necessary. For other violations punishable under the Revised Penal Code, the action is filed in the name of the People of the Philippines. The offended party files a complaint before the prosecutor, or in places where there are no such office before the municipal trial court of the place where the offense was committed, which would then conduct a preliminary investigation or examination to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the crime punishable under the Code has probably been committed. The finding of the prosecutor or the judge is forwarded to the Provincial Public Prosecutor's Office which then files the corresponding information to the regular courts which, in turn, would determine the culpability of the offender and impose the necessary penalty.
The Civil Code of the Philippines regulates the private relations of the members of civil society, determining their respective rights and obligations with reference to persons, things and civil acts. Under its provisions, every person must in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties act with justice, give everyone his due and observe honesty and good faith.
The Civil Code also protects human rights when it imposes liability for damages on any public officer or employee, or any private individual who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats or violates or in any manner impedes or impairs the rights or liberties of another person enumerated in article 32 of the Civil Code. In case of violations punishable under the Civil Code, the offended party files his/her complaint before the regular court which has jurisdiction over the matter, except those cases covered by the provisions of RA 7160 requiring amicable settlement and arbitration.
3. National Institution for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights:
The Commission on Human Rights
The Philippines Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) has established protective legal measures to safeguard the rights of Filipinos according to the principles guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and international treaty obligations. It deals directly with any particular type of human rights violation, primarily those involving civil and political rights. Specifically, the Commission handles complaints of execution, disappearances, arrest and detention and torture, in addition to other human rights violations related to armed conflict. It may also request the assistance of other agencies of the Government in the fulfillment of its mandate.
Representation with the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is in charge of the prosecution of offences, is also undertaken by the Commission. This is to give preferential attention to the hearing and termination of cases of detainees. As a result, DOJ closely monitors prosecutors who handle these cases to ensure that investigations are completed within the required 60-day period. The Supreme Court, in a parallel move, has likewise urged judges to speed up the resolution of cases through the continuous trial system.
A Witness Protection Programme was instituted to give witnesses the necessary courage and confidence to serve the ends of justice. It involves securing the lives of the witnesses, victims and their immediate family members and protecting them from any form of harassment or threat.
The DOJ is one of the executive departments that plays a vital role in the enforcement and promotion of human rights through its various bureaus, offices and committees at the national and subnational levels.
The Office of the Ombudsman is another independent office dealing with human rights enforcement. The main function of this Office is to prevent abuse of power by government officials which adversely affects private rights. The prosecution arm of the Department of Justice works closely with the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Special Prosecutor.
The Ombudsman Act of 1989 (RA 6770) strengthened the powers of the Office of the Ombudsman making it a more potent administrative machinery to insure that government officials remain accountable to the people.
A number of other administrative agencies facilitate the implementation and enforcement of human rights. They mainly implement policies in accordance with the laws and administrative issuances. Very often, they enforce and promote the positive rights of citizens which affect their daily lives. For instance, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) sees to it that the rights of workers are protected and their welfare promoted. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) implements the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law to promote the economic rights of farmers. With respect to the rights of Filipino children, Filipino women and persons with disabilities (PWDs), the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) and the Council for the Welfare of Disabled Persons, respectively, have been created to coordinate the implementation and enforcement by executive departments of all laws relative to the promotion of the welfare of their respective sectors.
4. Protection of the rights provided for in the Constitution
The 1987 Constitution protects, inter alia, the following rights: the right to life, liberty or property (sect. 1, art. III); right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature (sect. 2, art. III); right to privacy of communication and correspondence; freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people to assemble peacefully and petition the Government for redress of grievances; free exercise and establishment of religion; liberty of abode and changing of the same; right of people to information on matters of public concern; right to form unions and associations; right of persons under investigation to be informed of their rights, to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel; right to bail; right to due process; right to presumption of innocence until the contrary is proven; right to speedy disposition of cases, right to be free from involuntary servitude in any form except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted. Moreover, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except in cases of invasion or rebellion when the public safety requires it.
5. Manner in which international human rights instruments
become part of domestic law
By virtue of article II, section 2, of the Constitution, the Philippines "adopts the generally-accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land" which means that provisions of these human rights instruments can be invoked before and be directly enforced by Philippine courts, other tribunals or administrative authorities. Moreover, article XIII, section 18 (7) of the Constitution provides that the PCHR shall monitor the Government's compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.
To date, the Philippines has signed, ratified or acceded to 20 international human rights instruments, including all seven core human rights treaties, to wit: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.