Renewed armed conflict displaced more than 610,000 and killed over 100 civilians in Southern Philippines. Peace talks between the government and various armed groups stalled. The majority of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances remained unsolved. A culture of impunity continued to encourage vigilante killings. Indigenous Peoples (IPs) continued to struggle for land rights as the government failed to comply with its obligation to obtain IPs’ free, prior and informed consent to development plans in their traditional territories. Cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions of detention persisted, and under-18s experienced abuse in juvenile detention centres.
Armed conflict – Mindanao
In August, heavy fighting erupted between government security forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on a previously signed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. The Memorandum widened the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao and gave broader political and economic powers to Muslim leadership in the region.
Human rights abuses and breaches of international humanitarian law were committed by the government and the MILF during the renewed conflict. Over 610,000 people were displaced by the fighting; their situation was aggravated by floods, typhoons and reported cases of local government or the military blocking aid. Over 100 unarmed civilians were killed, some of them deliberately targeted and others indiscriminately attacked by MILF fighters. Over 500 houses were allegedly burned by both parties.
- In August, the MILF killed at least 33 civilians and took more than 70 hostage including the elderly, women and children, in an attack on civilians in Lanao del Norte province.
The MILF reportedly trained children as young as 13 for the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.
The Philippine military failed to protect civilians from MILF attacks, and killed several civilians in ground attacks and aerial bombings. Security forces allegedly tortured several Muslim civilians, resulting in at least two deaths, in their pursuit of MILF commanders.
The government armed militias. In August, the police announced that they would distribute 12,000 shotguns to “auxiliaries”. Some local officials encouraged civilians to arm themselves for protection.
Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions
The national counter-insurgency policy did not differentiate between New People’s Army (NPA) fighters, the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and activists in legal organizations. Allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and criminal cases brought against activists, political dissidents and NGO workers on what appeared to be spurious grounds continued.
In April, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions submitted his report stating: “killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists and land reform advocates, intimidated a vast number of civil society actors, and narrowed the country’s political discourse.”
In November, the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that the government violated provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in the 2003 murder of activists Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy, stating that failure to investigate the killings “amounted to a denial of justice”.
Few effective investigations were conducted into allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, and conviction of those responsible was rare. Many cases were not brought to court due to a lack of evidence, often because witnesses feared reprisals. Out of the hundreds of cases that had been reported in previous years, only two were resolved and no high-ranking officials were prosecuted.
"At least 11 journalists, mostly local radio commentators, were killed in separate incidents..."
- In a landmark ruling in July, a Regional Trial Court in Agusan del Sur province found Army Corporal Rodrigo Billones guilty of kidnapping and illegal detention of six individuals, suspected to be communist insurgents, in 2000. A military witness stated that the victims were tortured. Rodrigo Billones was sentenced to life imprisonment.
- In September, Indigenous Peoples’ rights activist and co-founder of group Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) James Balao was abducted by armed men claiming to be police officers. The CPA believed James Balao to be detained in an undisclosed security forces’ facility.
- In September, the Court of Appeals issued writs of amparo and habeas corpus to the families of disappeared students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, who had been abducted in 2006. The Court ordered the students’ release, stating that the decision dealt with “a few misguided, self-righteous people who resort to the extrajudicial process of neutralizing those who disagree with the country’s democratic system of government.” However, the court did not permit inspection of military camps and facilities, and their whereabouts remained unknown.
- In October, the Supreme Court upheld a Court of Appeals decision granting brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo protection from harassment by security forces under a writ of amparo. The brothers were illegally detained and subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the military for 18 months before they escaped in 2007.
Freedom of expression
At least 11 journalists, mostly local radio commentators, were killed in separate incidents by unknown perpetrators. According to the Supreme Court Chief Justice, some 70 journalists were killed between 2001 and 2008, and of the cases filed on these killings, only one had been resolved, six were undergoing trial and 18 were under investigation.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
Despite legislative protection, Indigenous Peoples (IPs) struggled to realise their land rights and rights to determine the development of their own traditional territories and resources within them.
The government stepped up efforts to attract mining corporations to invest in the country’s estimated US$1 trillion worth of unexplored minerals – most of them within IPs’ traditional territories. In mining sites across the country, IPs were displaced and hundreds forcibly evicted. In many cases, no free, prior and informed consent was sought. In October, the Defence Secretary announced that the government will deploy more troops in mining areas and allow mining companies to create militias, to be trained and supervised by soldiers, to secure their mining interests against the NPA.
Cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions persisted. Detention centres and prisons remained overcrowded and food was frequently spoiled.
Despite legislative and procedural safeguards, children in detention were held with adults in poor conditions and remained at risk of physical or sexual abuse.
Media highlighted discrimination in prisons, reporting as many as 6,000 special private cubicles, some reportedly with amenities such as large-sized bed and LCD TV, available to rich or influential prisoners.