REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES
Head of state and government: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: signed
A one-week State of Emergency was declared in response to alleged coup conspiracies. Rights of peaceful assembly were restricted and rebellion charges filed against prominent leftist politicians and others. Political killings of leftist activists continued as the government declared “all-out war” on communist rebels. A police task force and Commission of Inquiry established to investigate the killings resulted in only a limited number of arrests and prosecutions. Arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances were reported in the context of counter-insurgency operations. Peace talks between the government and Muslim separatists in Mindanao continued. All death sentences were commuted and Congress passed a law abolishing capital punishment. Armed groups were reportedly responsible for abuses, including unlawful killings.
Alleged coup plots
In February, President Gloria Arroyo declared a week-long State of Emergency in response to alleged coup conspiracies involving members of the mainstream opposition in “tactical alliance” with rightists, communist rebels, leftist politicians and members of the military.
Police enforced a ban on public assemblies and raided a newspaper office, threatening to shut down media outlets that failed to follow “responsible” reporting guidelines.
Scores of people were arrested or threatened with arrest, particularly members of legal leftist political parties which were accused by government and military officials of links with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). Dozens were arrested and charged with “rebellion” in the period following the alleged coup plot, including critics of the government.
• In February, Crispin Beltran, Congress Representative for the Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party, was detained on a warrant of arrest for rebellion. After the validity of the warrant and a subsequent charge of “incitement to sedition” were challenged by lawyers, he was further charged with rebellion. He had not been tried by the end of 2006.
• Police sought to arrest five other leftist Congress Representatives on suspicion of rebellion. Afforded Congressional protective custody from arrest, they remained in the Congressional compound for over two months as prosecutors conducted preliminary investigations. The charges were dismissed by a court in May but further rebellion charges were filed against the five Representatives and over 45 other leftist suspects. All remained under threat of arrest at the end of 2006.
Political killings and counter-insurgency
A long-standing peace process between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), representing the CPP-NPA, appeared to be abandoned as the government declared a new offensive against communist rebels.
Armed attacks continued on members of legal leftist political parties, including Bayan Muna (People First) and Anakpawis. Reports of the number of such victims of alleged political killings ranged from 61 to at least 96 during the year. Most were killed by unidentified armed men on motorcycles. In some cases, those attacked had reportedly been under surveillance by people linked to the security forces or had received death threats.
• Rafael Markus Bangit, an Indigenous people’s leader and Bayan Muna provincial co-ordinator, was shot dead in Isabela province (northern Luzon) by two masked gunmen. He was about to re-board a bus, while travelling with his son. He had earlier told colleagues that he believed he was under surveillance.
Amid reports of ineffective investigations, and with witnesses and relatives of the victims too frightened to co-operate with the police, perpetrators were rarely brought to justice. In May the authorities set up a special police investigative task force. However, only a limited number of people were arrested and few cases were filed in court by the end of the year, and no one was held accountable for cases stretching back to 2001. President Arroyo in August established a Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court Justice José Melo, to investigate the killings and make recommendations for remedial action, including appropriate prosecutions and legislative proposals.
As military operations intensified, there were reports nationwide of arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and harassment of civilians suspected of being CPP-NPA supporters.
• In February, Audie Lucero, a 19-year-old youth activist with the leftist Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (Movement for National Democracy), disappeared after being questioned by soldiers and police at a hospital in Balanga City (Bataan, Luzon) about a wounded friend he had helped bring for medical attention. His body was found in a field the next day. The military reported that the wounded man was a rebel.
• Also in February police arrested 10 youths aged between 19 and 24 and a 15-year-old girl, who had been hitchhiking in Benguet Province on their way to a music festival at the resort of Sagada. Most reported being beaten, suffocated with plastic bags and drenched with gasoline to force them to admit involvement in an NPA attack on a military detachment. The 11 were charged with robbery and homicide, and remained in detention until December.
Abolition of the death penalty
In April, President Arroyo announced the commutation of all death sentences. At least 1,230 prisoners had been sentenced to death since 1994. Death sentences were replaced with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Congress voted in favour of a Bill to repeal the death penalty law, and the President signed it in June. In 1987 the Philippines had become the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. However capital punishment was reintroduced in 1994, and seven prisoners were subsequently executed by lethal injection.
Mindanao peace process
Peace negotiations between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued to make progress, albeit slowly. Disagreements continued over ancestral domain land claims and the amount of territory to be included in an expanded Muslim autonomous region as part of a peace settlement.
A ceasefire agreement was periodically broken by clashes between MILF and government forces. Sporadic bomb attacks on civilian targets were allegedly perpetrated by Islamists, some reportedly linked to the MILF. MILF leaders denied links with Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional network accused of involvement in violent or terrorist activity, or with Abu Sayaff, a Philippine Muslim separatist group responsible for kidnappings and killings of civilians.
In October the Senate amended an Anti-Terrorism Bill, including by reducing the time suspects could be detained without judicial authority, and by withdrawing clauses extending law enforcement powers to the military.
AI country reports/visits
• Philippines: Political killings, human rights and the peace process (AI Index: ASA 35/006/2006)
• Philippines: Towards ensuring justice and ending political killings (AI Index: ASA 35/010/2006)
AI delegates visited the Philippines in February during the State of Emergency and in December.
Vol. VII, No. 16 May 27-June 2, 2007