The Philippines

The Philippines: Country Profile

The Philippines is made up of 7000 islands in the South-East Asia Sea with a population of 99 million, predominantly Catholic, citizens. As a former colony of the USA the Philippines is one of its strongest allies in the region.

Pegged as one of Asia’s rising stars, the Philippines has enjoyed high economic growth in the recent years (7.2% in 2013).[1] The Philippines is keen to promote its image as an attractive place for foreign investors following decades of slow economic growth and internal instability.

Despite general international approval of the Philippines’ growth, wealth has been accumulated by conglomerates and established wealthy families with little reaching the poor. The Philippines remains one of the most unequal societies as 40 families still control more than 70% of the nation’s wealth.[2] At the same time, poverty and unemployment rates have remained unchanged. Furthermore, economic growth has largely been supported by remittances from a global workforce of Filipino workers and investments in Business Process Outsourcing, neither of which indicates sustainable – or inclusive – national development. 

The current president Benigo Acquino, who came in on a platform of greater respect for human rights and an end to corruption, has failed to uphold his promise. Severe human rights violations continue with impunity and there is yet to be one conviction for corruption.

The Philippines also has two ongoing insurgencies. On one front there is the longest-running communist insurgency in the world led by the New People’s Army (NPA). The NPA is the military arm of the Communist People’s Party of the Philippines. There are ongoing peace negotiations between the NPA and the Government of the Philippines but they are constantly undermined by the arrests of certified peace consultants to the negotiations (NDFP Peace consultants). In March 2014, two leaders of the CPP-New People’s National Democratic Front were arrested: Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Tiamzon. They are the most high-profile arrests to date.

The second active insurgency is led by multiple factions of Muslim separatists based in the southern island of Mindanao. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are the two biggest groups. However Abu Sayyaf, the smallest, is renowned internationally for kidnappings and bombings. In March 2014, the Government of the Philippines signed a peace pact with MILF, the largest Muslim separatist group, as a significant step towards creating a semi-autonomous region. There are many parties interested in achieving peace in the region which is rich in natural resources and there are plans to facilitate the large-scale extraction of minerals.

Human Rights Issues

The very active civil society of the Philippines has long operated under the threat of violence and intimidation. Many communities and activists have been protesting against the privatisation of public services, exploitative labour conditions, demolitions of urban settlements and increasing exploitation of natural resources and environmental pollution by large-scale mining in indigenous peoples’ lands. Activists who dare to speak out on behalf of their communities risk their lives on a daily basis.

Major and persistent human rights violations include:

  1. Extra-judicial killings: a regular method used to silence activists or campaigners, extrajudicial killings persist to this day. Impunity is assumed and convictions are rare. Petty criminals have also been targeted by ‘death squads’ in urban centres in Mindanao. The local government has paid death squads up to $110 per hit to ‘clean up the streets’ and even children as young as 9 have been targeted in the sweeps.[1] The Philippines is also ranked third in countries for killings of journalists. There has only been one conviction for more than 50 journalist’s murders in the past 10 years (over half of which have been during the current president’s term of office).[2]
  2. Arbitrary arrests and detention of activists: An increasingly popular tactic of the Philippines government has been to arrest activists and charge them with fabricated offences. Arrested activists are pinned with allegations of crimes committed by the New People’s Army, or are accused of common murders committed at times when they have solid alibis and are often not even near the location of the crime. The same witnesses are frequently recycled for different allegations. Many activists are caught up in the slow criminal justice system for years before their case is thrown out for lack of evidence. Human rights NGO Karapatan has documented 570 cases of illegal arrests and detention since June 2010.[3] There are also 15 NDFP peace consultants who have been granted immunity from prosecution as part of peace negotiations but are nonetheless currently charged with criminal offences.
  3. Disappearances: In the last 4 years, more than 19 cases of forced disappearances have been documented. Many of the victims were last seen being arrested by paramilitary forces or police who later denied having knowledge of their location.
  4. Urban settlement demolitions and violations of the rights of workers and peasants: The poor are routinely dispossessed and marginalised. Urban settlements are being demolished to make way for business developments and displaced communities are being pushed to the outskirts of Manila, far from their work and basic services. Workers still experience repressed wages and exploitative working conditions despite high economic growth. Trade unionists are frequently fired and blacklisted or targeted for killings.
  5. Internal displacement of people: In highly militarised areas, local communities (especially indigenous peoples’ communities) are forced out of their homes for weeks at a time due to military harassment. Most recently, in March 2013, Talaingod Manabos communities (1,353 individuals) were forced from their ancestral lands by aerial bombings and intensified militarisation by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

{C}[1]{C} Human Rights Watch has reported 298 people were killed by death squads in Tagum City alone between 2007 to 2013. P Kine, ‘Philippines: $110 per hit’, Human Rights Watch 23 May 2014 available athttp://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/22/philippines-110-hit

{C}[2]{C} Elisabeth Witchel CPJ,  2014 Global Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free, Committee to Protect Journalists, 16 April 2014 available at: https://www.cpj.org/reports/2014/04/impunity-index-getting-away-with-murder.php#philippines

{C}[3]{C}

{C}[1]{C} K. Yap and C. Yap, ‘Philippines Posts Strongest Two Years of GDP Growth Since 1950s,’ Bloomberg,  30 January 2014, available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-30/philippine-gdp-growth-slowed-last-quarter-on-impact-of-typhoon.html

{C}[2]{C} AFP, ‘Philippines’ elite swallow country’s new wealth,’ Business Inquirer, 3 March 2013 available at http://business.inquirer.net/110413/philippines-elite-swallow-countrys-new-wealth