The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. Midterm elections in 2019 for 12 (of 24 total) senators, all congressional representatives, and local government leaders were seen as generally free and fair, despite some reports of violence and vote buying. The ruling party and allies won all 12 Senate seats and maintained an approximately two-thirds majority in the 306-seat House of Representatives.
The Philippine National Police is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the Department of the Interior. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (armed forces), which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions where the government assesses a high incidence of terrorist or separatist insurgent activity, particularly the Mindanao region. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The national police Special Action Force is responsible for urban counterterrorism operations. Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including appointment of top provincial and municipal police officers and the provision of resources. The government continued to support and arm civilian militias. The armed forces controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units, while Civilian Volunteer Organizations fell under national police command. These paramilitary units often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated. Some political families and clan leaders, particularly in Mindanao, maintained private armies and, at times, recruited Civilian Volunteer Organization and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit members into those armies. Civilian control over some security forces was not fully effective. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; reports of forced disappearance by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; torture by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by terrorists and groups in rebellion against the government; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the use of criminal libel laws to punish journalists; high-level and widespread government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; and threats and violence against labor activists.
The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitary forces, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity continued following the increase in killings by police in 2016. Significant concerns also persisted about impunity for other security forces, civilian national and local government officials, and powerful business and commercial figures. Slow judicial processes remained an obstacle to bringing government officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses to justice. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Muslim separatists, communist insurgents, and terrorist groups continued to attack government security forces and civilians, causing displacement of civilians and resulting in the deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles. These actions were at times investigated and prosecuted, although there were credible allegations that charges were often leveled for political reasons.
For Further Reference
Full U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Report
U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Country Report
U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report Country Narrative
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review
Human Rights Watch World Report Country Chapter
Amnesty International Annual Report Country Chapter
Freedom House Freedom in the World Country Report