HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF THE PHILIPPINES
16 October 2012
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the fourth periodic report of the Philippines on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Leila M. de Lima, Secretary of Justice of the Philippines, introducing the report, said that the Social Contract with the Filipino people, enunciated by the President upon his taking office in 2010, was a 16-point agenda and a foundation for respect of human rights; it focused on anti-corruption and good governance, poverty alleviation and empowerment of the poor, building a just and lasting peace and promoting the rule of law. Since 2003, a number of laws were enacted to further a more effective implementation of the Covenant and the country had also ratified a number of international instruments, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. New legislation abolished the death penalty and addressed issues such as trafficking in persons, worst forms of child labour, violence against women and children, and discrimination against women. Progress was being made in addressing the cases of extra-judicial killings, where a marked decrease of 69 per cent was noted since 2008, enforced disappearances, and the protection of women and children in the judicial process.
Committee Experts welcomed the signing of the framework peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and asked about its expected impact on the human rights situation in the country. Experts commended the Philippines for the progress made in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country and raised a number of concerns regarding the implementation of the Covenant, which included the mandate, structure and funding of the Commission for Human Rights; the definition of terrorism in the Human Security Act, which was a source of concern for several treaty bodies; and measures to tackle the issue of private armies and control illicit arms trade and markets. The Committee noted that the national monitoring mechanism for acts of torture had been authorized and asked when it would become operational. The Magna Carta on Women was not being implemented and there was a sense of urgency to turn this law into something that was living and impacted social policies for the benefit of women.
In her closing remarks, Ms. de Lima stressed the importance of civil and political rights, which were the fabric of the democratic and free society in the Philippines with a vibrant civil society and media, which allowed for a diverse and lively debate on all issues in the country. The Government was committed to continuing to abide by its obligations as a State Party to the Covenant; to further enhance measures to secure wider and more effective promotion of civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights of all Filipinos; and to continue to address the challenges and work towards strengthening the protection of all fundamental rights.
Zonke Zanele Majodina, Committee Chairperson, in preliminary closing remarks, noted the continuous efforts of the Philippines to bring national legislation in line with the provisions of the Covenant, including the abolition of the death penalty, passing into law the Magna Carta of Women, and signing the framework peace agreement that would bring peace to the Mindanao region. The Committee noted a number of areas of deficit in the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant, such as cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, and the proliferation of private armies and vigilante groups, and expressed concern about access to reproductive services, particularly for teenagers, and about high rates of child labour.
The delegation of the Philippines included representatives of the Department of Justice, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Office of the President, Supreme Court of the Philippines, Presidential Human Rights Committee, Philippine National Police, Council for the Welfare of Children, and the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when the Human Rights Committee will publicly meet with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
The fourth periodic report of the Philippines can be read here: (CCPR/C/PHL/4).
Presentation of the Report
LEILA M. DE LIMA, Secretary of Justice of the Philippines, said that the Philippines had undergone a tumultuous period in its history during which many of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been trampled upon by a dictatorial Government. When President Benigno S. Aquino III had assumed office in 2010 he had enunciated his Social Contract with the people; this Social Contract was a 16-point agenda, a foundation for respect of human rights, focusing on anti-corruption and good governance, poverty alleviation and empowerment of the poor, building just and lasting peace, promoting the rule of law, and protecting the environment, with gender equality a cross-cutting concern. The provisions of the Covenant were applicable in the State’s legal framework and following the incorporation doctrine, treaties and other international instruments to which the Philippines was a party were enforceable in the national courts. Since 2003, a number of laws had been enacted to further a more effective implementation of the Covenant, including the Anti-trafficking Law, which had instituted policies to eliminate and punish human trafficking and established the necessary institutional mechanisms for the protection and support of trafficked persons, the child labour law, to address the worst forms of child labour, the Anti-violence against Women and their Children Act, abolishment of the death penalty, the Magna Carta of Women and others. The Philippines had also ratified a number of international instruments, including the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and others.
Turning to the replies to the list of issues provided by the Committee, Ms. de Lima said, on article 2 on guarding against discrimination, that the Supreme Court had unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Philippine Human Security Act, affirming the respect of human rights in efforts to criminalize terrorism. Also, the Senate had passed the anti-discrimination bill which penalized discrimination between men and women in employment, education, delivery of goods and services, accommodation, and other areas. Homosexuality was not a criminal offence under the law. A bill seeking to amend the Anti-rape Law by removing the husband’s exception from criminal liability was listed among the priorities under the Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda. The State was fully implementing the Magna Carta for Overseas Migrant Workers to ensure that Filipinos who sought employment outside of the country were effectively protected. There was a marked decline in the number of cases of extra-judicial killings; the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines had reported a 69 per cent decrease in the number of cases since 2008. A bill to address the issue of enforced disappearances had been approved by the Senate, while the National Monitoring Mechanism would monitor cases of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. The Government continued to empower its security sector to fully comply with human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law. Human rights officers in the Armed Forces and the National Police played important roles in instilling a culture of respect for human rights in security forces. The State had also furthered the protection of women and children in the judicial process; the Supreme Court had designated Regional Trial Courts as Family Courts to prioritize cases related to women and children, including cases involving violence against women.
Questions by Experts
YUJI IWASAWA, Committee Rapporteur for the report of the Philippines, commended the delegation for submitting written replies to the list of issues, but regrettably it had been done very late which made it impossible to translate for all Committee Experts. He commended the Philippines for ratifying a number of international instruments and for the positive developments that had taken place in this country in the promotion and protection of human rights. Those included the abolishment of the death penalty, the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, measures to address extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, and the enactment of the Magna Carta for Women seeking to eliminated discrimination against women. Today was a historic day in the Philippines with the reaching of a peace agreement with the largest rebel group after 40 years of armed conflict. Despite all the progress, the Committee had however various concerns regarding the implementation of the Covenant in the country and asked about details of the peace agreement signed today and about its impact on the human rights situation in the country.
Incorporation doctrine meant that international instruments became an integral part of the Philippine law and were upheld by national laws; but were they a direct source of the law and did that mean that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was a part of the Philippine laws? What remedies were available to those who had invoked the Covenant? Were there cases in which courts referred to the work or views of the Committee in interpreting the Covenant? What concrete steps had been taken to implement the Committee views in which the Committee had found violations of the Covenant? Turning to the issue of the Commission for Human Rights, the Committee asked what were the prospects of the Senate Bill N° 2818 to be enacted as law, how the mandate of the Commission would be enhanced and how its independence would be strengthened? The Committee was pleased to learn that the Commission for Human Rights – Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Regional Office had been established and asked for further information on the Commission, its structure and composition, mandate and fiscal base and how members were selected or appointed?
Other Experts asked about the definition of terrorism in the Human Security Act, which was a source of concern for several treaty bodies. The Committee had been told that there was a provision in the Penal Code that had been invoked to arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. What steps were being taken to address under-representation of women in political and public life, and in positions of higher authority in the private sector? An Expert noted that the national monitoring mechanism for acts of torture had been authorized and asked when it would become operational.
The information on the situation of women was scarce, noted an Expert and said that the Magna Carta on Women was not being implemented and that there was a sense of urgency to turn this law into something that was living and impacted social policies for the benefit of women. On the operation of Sharia, what was being done to review Muslim personal law in relation to women’s issues? Concerning the Anti-rape Law and the gap in protection in relation to husbands, the Expert agreed that this revision was an urgent issue and asked when it might happen? What was being done to tackle the issue of private armies and what was the status of the two bills currently before Parliament, prohibiting the maintenance of private armies? How was the possession of firearms regulated in the country and what was being done to control the illicit arms trade and market?
Concerning the state of emergency in the Philippines, an Expert asked what the State was doing to dismantle private armies, whose presence had prompted some of the citizens of the country to ask for the extension of the state of emergency. Turning to the reproductive health of women and girls, Experts asked about the funding of such initiatives and noted that the prevalence of teenage pregnancy was directly related to access to information about reproductive health. When would the Reproductive Health Bill be enacted? What was the situation of Muslim women in the Philippines today? Did the agreement reached with Islamist movements put an end to the state of emergency?
Response by Delegation
The peace deal signed this morning was a historic moment and the delegation underlined that this was the framework agreement and not yet the final agreement; still, it contained underlying principles based on which the laws for Bangsamoro people would be adopted. It would later on have annexes which would define the power-sharing between the central Government and the Government which would be put in place in Bangsamoro.
The Government was fully supporting the enactment of the Charter for the Commission for Human Rights as it believed that a Commission with an enhanced mandate would greatly improve the human rights situation in the Philippines. Under the Constitution, the Commission had the mandate on civil and political rights, but the Charter expanded this to include economic and social rights and also established fiscal independence for the Commission. In terms of structure, the Committee was headed by a Commissioner with four assistants and had regional offices. The Bill was now pending before the Senate Committee for Human Rights. The Commission was supposed to monitor compliance of the Government with its human rights commitments and obligations and prosecutorial functions were not compatible with this function. Serious steps were being taken at the moment to strengthen prosecutorial powers of the regular prosecution structures to enable them to pursue and prosecute human rights violations and abuses.
Serious efforts were being undertaken by the Government to address the issue of private armies and the President had given the order to the national forces to dismantle them. The paramilitary forces created under the executive order to address the threat of communism and Muslim rebels were different from private armies; there were reports about abuses committed by paramilitary forces, but the professionalization drive in the armed forces aimed for improved recruitment and training of paramilitary auxiliary groups. Those paramilitary forces should not be confounded with private armies held by warlords, powerful politicians and even criminals; those were the ones currently being dismantled by the Presidential orders.
Experts asked a number of questions on when certain bills would be enacted and passed into laws; one should remember that the Cabinet was a different branch of Government from the executive, which did not have any control over the legislative process. There were several mechanisms in place in the country to address cases of extra-judicial killings, such as Special Task Forces in several ministries, and there was an existing memorandum of understanding with the Commission on Human Rights on cooperation in investigating and addressing extra-judicial killings.
The state of emergency following the Maguindanao massacre had been in place for only a week and had been lifted by the Presidential decision. The court decision that had been passed down later was in fact just the confirmation of that Presidential decision to lift the state of emergency. Concerning the incorporation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into national legislation, the delegation confirmed that the Philippines had always taken into account the views of the Committee.
At the moment, a total of 166 cases of extra-judicial killings were being handled in the Philippines by the National Police Task Force. There was an inter-agency ad hoc Committee which was presently reviewing and consolidating various statistics on extra-judicial killings; this had in fact been a challenge for the past several years, as different actors had different figures. It was expected that soon reliable and consolidated statistics on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines would be available, for the period from 2001.
The Magna Carta of Women was a comprehensive law designed to promote and protect women’s rights across all sectors. A number of institutions had been created to promote the rights of women, localize gender mainstreaming, ensure the provision of budgets and others. There was a 2012 to 2016 plan for the implementation of the Magna Carta of Women, designed in a consultative and human rights based manner. The delegation said that the report had provided information about the improvement of participation of women in public and political life: 37 per cent of judicial posts were occupied by women, the Chief Justice was a women and she was the first female Chief Justice in history; women also occupied posts in the Senate.
The Government recognized that teenage pregnancies were an issue that needed urgent attention and had organized a large summit earlier this year to raise awareness and draw attention to this problem. Just a week ago, an expert meeting had been held on the Millennium Development Goal number 5 related to the reduction of maternal mortality, in which the issue of teenage pregnancies had been discussed too.
The possession of firearms was a privilege and was regulated by an office within the National Police. Authorization of the procurement of firearms was subject to background checks, drug tests, gun training seminars, and other measures. There was no constitutional discrimination against women, including Muslim women; because of their religious preferences, Muslim women were also subject to Sharia laws and Muslim personal laws. The Penal Code was applicable to all citizens and was not targeted at homosexuals and if anyone had engaged in scandalous behavior, then the article concerning grave scandal was invoked.
Views on patriarchal attitudes in the Philippines were a mistake, because this was a matriarchal society, as were a number of South East Asian societies. International rankings of the Philippines in several areas concerning women’s rights, such as education, political empowerment of women and others, were evidence that the Philippines was not a patriarchal society.
Questions by Experts
In follow up questions, Committee Experts asked for further clarification on the relationship between the Constitution and the Sharia law, and the constitutional guarantees of non-discrimination, particularly for Muslim women. Which of the constitutional human rights would not be applicable in the autonomous region following the signing of the peace agreement today and why? Concerning illicit weapons, an Expert asked about the ratio between arms obtained through permits and those obtained illicitly and also asked what was being done to limit the vast illicit arms market. Were there measures to revise the provisions of the Penal Code related to abortion and remove the prohibition of abortion?
In a further series of questions and comments, an Expert asked about the timeline for the establishment of Family Courts and how Supreme Courts were being supported to be sensitive to specific challenges of addressing justice for children and women, until those Family Courts were in place. Another Expert turned to the issue of torture and violations of Article 7 prohibiting torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and asked what progress was being made by the Government in this regard. Pre-trial detention was being often used and the length was sometimes longer than sentences handed down. Also, a very high number of people were being held in pre-trial detention on conditions of overcrowding. What happened to those who denounced the excessive use of pre-trial detention?
An Expert took up the issue of free legal aid and asked how many low income families used those services. Although the State provided for free birth registration within 30 days, payment of a fee was imposed for delayed registration together with a fee for a certificate of no prior registration; all this created a financial burden on poor regions, where birth registration rates were low. What was being done to remedy this situation? The Expert also asked whether there was a state organ which facilitated amicable agreement between parents regarding the custody of children in amicable separations and also about any evaluation of the strategic plan 2011-2013 for the protection of children against pornography.
Another Expert commended the Philippines for taking human trafficking seriously and asked the delegation to provide additional information on incidence and prevalence of human trafficking and about the success of national programmes to combat the phenomenon. The Expert also commended the removal of formal impediments to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and said that the attitudes of society and officialdom were lagging behind the legislative measures and the formal values of the country; this was an issue of concern for the Committee. What was being done to combat those prejudices which were de facto impediments to the full enjoyment of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons?
Child labour remained a serious problem in the country; over the past decade incidence of child labour had increased by almost 30 per cent and children had been employed in hazardous occupations and suffered worst forms of exploitation, including prostitution and recruitment in armed forces. The Expert asked about a mechanism to protect children from being forced into labour by their families and about the reach and the capacity of labour inspectors. Turning to the issue of surveillance, the Expert noted that victims of enforced disappearances would often say to their families that they had been under surveillance and it was alleged that surveillance was a part of the military peace and security plan. A great number of mining operations in the Philippines took place on indigenous lands and many indigenous peoples suffered violence and even death; could the delegation comment on those allegations and provide information on the process of prior free and informed consent by indigenous peoples in relation to mining operations?
The Committee asked what measures were being taken to prevent and punish the bribery of journalists by politicians to provide positive coverage? Could the delegation comment on the law of libel and the heavy penalties introduced last month, and how those were consistent with freedom of expression?
Response by Delegation
The relationship between the Constitution and Sharia law in the Philippines and the guarantees for the respect of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights boiled down to the question of which law would prevail in case of conflict and how constitutional equality was guaranteed. Those issues had not found their way into the Supreme Court and this was still unchartered territory in the country. The simple answer was that the Constitution was the fundamental law of the land and that the Philippines was a secular country; any legal dispute and conflict between the laws would be decided by the Supreme Court which would rule in favour of the Constitution. Technically, a Muslim woman could step out of the faith and Sharia law and invoke the Constitution to protect her rights and freedoms, but there were consequences to consider for such acts.
There were several reasons for a delay in the disposition of court cases. There was no comprehensive and rational legislation on the creation of courts in the Philippines as yet, but a comprehensive bill had been introduced in Congress and had passed the third reading; it was hoped that it would be passed into law before the end of the year. Additionally, there were a number of vacant seats in the Courts; filling up the court vacancies was a very tedious process, put in place to ensure the selection of best candidates. A number of measures were being undertaken to curb corruption in the judiciary, including the possibility of increasing compensation, salaries and benefits for the court staff. The Government had taken a number of measures to control illicit arms, such as the national programme for firearms control, which included “soft” measures, such as dialogue and seeking stiffer legislation and penalties for the offences. In addition, there were operations in place to curb illegal arms trade and smuggling.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development together with local level authorities were normally involved in protecting the rights of children in cases of separation. They were led by the best interest of the child and the social worker was duty bound to identify alternative parental placements, starting from the family and relatives, going on to foster care and possibly adoption. There was in the Philippines a plan for the implementation of the Magna Carta for Women, which included a sub-chapter on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
The Philippines was guided by international standards and the relevant International Labour Organization Conventions in determining what hazardous work was. In addition, the creation of national policies on the subject was a result of multi-stakeholder and consultative processes. Despite the best efforts, there were millions of children working in the Philippines. Among the initiatives implemented there were “Child labour free barangai” to eradicate child labour in the local communities through awareness raising, social mobilization and integration assistance to the victims and their families. A national mechanism for the protection of children - the Local Council for the Protection of Children - had been established in 1948 and aimed to protect children from abuse, neglect and exploitation, including through child labour. The Council was mandated to monitor the situation of children at the barangai (village) level and ensure that their rights were protected.
The Philippine Commission for Women and other advocates for women’s rights had fought for the decriminalization of prostitution in the bill, but the Congress had been of the opinion that those were two different offences that should be approached differently and had separated different forms of vagrancy. The bill seeking decriminalization of prostitution was still waiting a review by the Congress.
Concerning the incidence of maternal mortality in relation to abortion, which was still illegal in the Philippines, the delegation said that maternal mortality rates in the country were 21 per 100,000 live births and as of 2009, the top three causes were haemorrhage, hypertension and infections. Abortion was a crime in the Philippines and was punishable by the revised Penal Code; there was no law expressly authorizing abortion to save a woman’s life. There were still no legislative tendencies to decriminalize abortion and any efforts to that end would be an uphill battle for the advocates because of societal conservatism and the powerful Catholic Church. Efforts to decriminalize abortion and prostitution would be met with strong opposition by the Catholic block.
Torture was constitutionally prescribed and the Anti-Torture Act had been enacted in 2009. The Commission on Human Rights had statistics on cases of torture, and the Government was in the process of consolidating various sources of information and validating cases of torture, together with cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. Prior to the passing of the Anti-Torture Act and the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Commission on Human Rights had been conducting regular inspections of places of detention and military camps in order to preclude acts of torture.
The Government was taking a number of measures to address the problem of overcrowding in prisons, including transfer from the national prison facility to penal colonies under the supervision of the Bureau of Corrections; regionalization of prison facilities to reduce the overcrowding in the national prison; alternative forms of punishment; and release on bail. The Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking was now being used as the model for other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; the delegation reserved the right to transmit the data on incidence and prevalence of human trafficking at a later date. In addition to this national mechanism, there were a number of task forces to combat human trafficking, on national and regional levels and also in ports of entry.
The executive department could support efforts to do away with jail terms related to libel and courts were advised and encouraged not to impose imprisonment for convictions of libel, but merely fines. Libel was still an offence in the Philippines and its total decriminalization was still to be discussed. Freedom of expression, like any other right, was not absolute as the rights of others must be taken into account. There was no official policy on surveillance of political dissidents in the Philippines; the Oplan Bayanihan – the Internal Peace and Security Plan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines - contained a paradigm shift from armed conflict to peace operations in the military and the communities. Homosexuality had never been criminalized in the country, so decriminalization was a misnomer.
Answering the follow up questions by the Committee Experts concerning the ability to opt out of the Sharia system and the related consequences, and about the punishment for libel, the delegation said that the Supreme Court did not make the law but implemented it; the issue must be addressed by the Congress. Concerning the framework agreement and the rights contained therein, it did not refer to any other basic rights outside of the Constitution and it enumerated the basic freedoms which were not exclusive.
LEILA M. DE LIMA, Secretary of Justice of the Philippines, in her closing remarks thanked the Committee for the interest in the progress made by the Philippines in the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The delegation had shared the achievements and developments under the leadership of the new President and reiterated that civil and political rights were vital to the Filipino nation as they were the fabric of the democratic and free society. The Philippines took pride in its vibrant civil society and media which allowed for a diverse and lively debate on all issues in the country. Ms. de Lima reiterated the strong commitment of the Government to continue to abide by its obligations as a State Party to the Covenant, and to further enhance measures to secure wider and more effective promotion of civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights of all Filipinos. While significant challenges remained, the Philippines would continue to address them and work towards strengthening the protection of all fundamental rights.
ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, Committee Chairperson, in her preliminary concluding observations, agreed that it was a constructive dialogue and noted that since the last report in 2003 there had been continuous efforts to bring national legislation in line with the provisions of the Covenant, including the abolition of the death penalty, passing into law the Magna Carta of Women and the signing the framework peace agreement that would bring peace to the Mindanao region. The Committee had noted a number of areas of deficit in the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant, such as the lack of mechanisms to implement the Commission on Human Rights’ views, the lack of fiscal autonomy for the Commission on Human Rights, the lack of definition of terrorism in the Human Security Act, the proliferation of private armies and vigilante groups, and incidence of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. The Committee remained concerned about access to reproductive services, particularly for teenagers, and about maternal mortality rates and the absolute prohibition of abortion. Further, the Committee remained concerned about the high rates of child labour despite all the efforts undertaken by the Government to address the issue and expressed hope that the Government would undertake additional efforts to address this and other issues of concerns.
For use of the information media; not an official record