With 2010 as the self-imposed deadline by the government to “crush” the communist insurgency, the military failed to differentiate between New People’s Army (NPA) fighters and civilian activists and human rights defenders in rural areas, resulting in displacement and unlawful killings. The military subjected civilians to secret detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Both sides carried out politically motivated killings and enforced disappearances. A culture of impunity continued as almost no perpetrators were brought to justice. In July, the government began actively pursuing the resumption of formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Hundreds of thousands remained displaced. Indigenous Peoples living in remote areas throughout the country, and the Moros (Philippine Muslims) in Mindanao were particularly affected. Privately armed militias and death squads carried out unlawful killings. Indigenous Peoples suffered both as a result of the conflict and from forced evictions from their lands in the interest of extraction industries.
Internal armed conflict
In December, the President signed into law “An Act Defining and Penalizing Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity”.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front
In July, the army and the MILF agreed to stop military operations after a year of fighting in Mindanao Island, southern Philippines. In September, they signed a framework agreement for an International Contact Group to serve as guarantors to the peace negotiations. In October, they signed an agreement on civilian protection that reconfirmed their obligations under humanitarian law and human rights law and designated an International Monitoring Team and NGOs to carry out monitoring and civilian protection functions. Formal peace talks resumed in December.
In December, the government estimated that there were some 125,000 internally displaced people in Maguindanao province. Only 20 per cent of displaced families lived in centres for the displaced. Many lived in tents unsuitable for long-term shelter, especially given frequent typhoons and floods. Living conditions were poor, with unclean water, inadequate sanitation and high levels of malnutrition.
National Democratic Front
In June, the government and the NDF agreed to work towards the resumption of formal peace talks to end the 40-year sporadic armed conflict. The NDF are linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA.
In July, the government lifted its four-year suspension of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee to allow the NDF to prepare for talks that had been stalled since 2005. However, military efforts to flush out the NPA resulted in the displacement of thousands, including Indigenous Peoples, from forested lands throughout the country.
- In July and August, some 1,800 people from 15 Indigenous communities in Surigao del Sur province, 400 people from seven communities in North Cotabato province, and 500 people from seven communities in Davao del Sur fled after government troops entered their communities. Their economic activities were affected and their movement was restricted. Some community members were intimidated into joining Task Force Gantangan – Bagani Force, a government-backed paramilitary unit composed of Indigenous Peoples tasked to fight the NPA. Some had returned home by the end of the year.
In a follow-up report on the Philippines in April the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions stated that the government had not implemented reforms to ensure command responsibility for human rights violations; that impunity for unlawful killings remained widespread; and witness protection remained inadequate. In addition, the CPP and the NPA had failed to reduce unlawful killings.
- In March, unidentified assailants shot dead anti-mining activist Eliezer Billanes in South Cotabato province in broad daylight. He had just returned from a meeting with soldiers to discuss his safety concerns.
- In June, five soldiers beat and shot dead Katog Sapalon, a charcoal maker, in front of his family in Maguindanao province. A family member said that the soldiers repeatedly asked if he was a member of the MILF.
- In September, armed men killed Catholic priest and human rights defender Father Cecilio Lucero in Northern Samar province. He had been travelling with an armed police bodyguard for security.
- In November, more than 100 members of paramilitary groups, together with the private army of a powerful political clan, massacred more than 60 people, including 33 journalists and media personnel in Maguindanao province. Those killed were filling out a certificate of nomination for a provincial governor candidate.
Torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances
Torture continued to be practised in military facilities and secret detention centres. In May, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern about the “numerous, ongoing, credible and constant allegations… of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions” and that those “committed by law enforcement and military services personnel were seldom investigated or prosecuted”.
- In January, the military abducted Mansur Salih, a tricycle driver from Maguindanao province, during a raid on his village. The military held him incommunicado in a secret detention centre where he was beaten and repeatedly given electric shocks. He was fed only once every three days. Mansur Salih was made to sign a document he had not read, before he surfaced in April and was charged with arson.
- In May, the military reportedly abducted Melissa Roxas, an American citizen of Philippine descent, in Tarlac province. The military beat her and subjected her to near-suffocation with plastic bags. Melissa Roxas said that she was mistakenly identified by her abductors as the former secretary-general of leftist labour group Migrante.
In November, the Anti-torture Bill became law.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
Free, prior and informed consent, enshrined in Philippine law, continued to be circumvented or denied in practice. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern that Indigenous Peoples were not adequately consulted with regard to infrastructure and natural resource exploitation projects. The Committee also highlighted the effect internal displacement had on the livelihoods, health and education of Indigenous Peoples.
- In October, about 100 armed police and a demolition crew violently dispersed residents from a protest site in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya province. The residents were protesting against the forced eviction of hundreds of Indigenous Peoples and rural dwellers from their homes in Didipio to make way for mining exploration. The police reportedly used unnecessary and excessive force and threw tear gas at the residents.
Freedom of expression
The government accused activists and left-leaning NGOs of being communist supporters. Activists were targeted in criminal lawsuits, known as SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).
Amnesty International visits/report
- Amnesty International delegates visited the Philippines in March, April, May and December.
- Shattered Lives: Beyond the 2008-2009 Mindanao Armed Conflict