Philippines: Freedom in the World 2022 Country Report | Freedom House (2023)

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Are there free and independent media? 1.001 4.004

The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press, and private media are vibrant and outspoken. However, the Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, and the president’s hostile rhetoric toward members of the media exacerbates an already perilous situation. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has found that attacks and threats on the media have continued relentlessly throughout the Duterte administration, and state agencies have made no serious efforts to investigate serious incidents or otherwise address the problem. Journalists experience physical attacks; threats, including death threats and bomb threats; smear campaigns claiming they conspire against the government; red-tagging; and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 11 journalists have been killed in the Philippines in connection with their work since 2016. In July 2021, a radio journalist was shot by an unidentified gunman; and in December, a newspaper reporter was shot by unknown assailants. The vast majority of violent attacks remain unpunished. In December 2019, however, a trial court found dozens of defendants guilty for the brutal massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in Maguindanao in 2009. Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., the most prominent defendant, was sentenced to life in prison.

Other obstacles to press freedom include Executive Order 608, which established a National Security Clearance System to protect classified information, and the Human Security Act, which allows journalists to be wiretapped based on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. Libel is a criminal offense, and libel cases have been used frequently to quiet criticism of public officials.

In June 2020, Maria Ressa, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, and Reynaldo Santos Jr. were found guilty of cyberlibel and sentenced to six years in prison. In August 2021, a Manila court dismissed a libel case against the online news site Rappler, Ressa, and other codefendants; another libel case had been dismissed a couple of months earlier. A new case was filed against Rappler and six other organizations in December by Duterte’s secretary of energy. Rappler, which has criticized Duterte’s war on drugs, had its corporate registration revoked by government regulators in 2018 for violating the prohibition on foreign ownership and control of Philippine media outlets. Rappler reporters were accused by Duterte of being part of a “fake news outlet,” and banned from government events and from conducting interviews with state officials.

In 2020, ABS-CBN, the oldest and largest media network in the country, shut down its broadcast operations following the expiration of its operating license. Duterte had accused the network of bias against him and openly threatened to close it down since the 2016 campaign. The shutdown was condemned by numerous press freedom and human rights advocacy groups. In July 2021, ABS-CBN published online a list of the 70 lawmakers who voted to end the media franchise.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution and generally respected in practice. Under the Duterte administration, priests critical of the drug war have been killed and threatened. During the COVID-19 lockdown between July and August 2021, churches were not allowed to hold public religious services, though Duterte and his supporters held political rallies.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

Academic freedom at the country’s many public and private schools is generally respected, though the government has increasingly taken on a hostile stance toward academic independence, particularly the teaching of communist texts. In January 2021, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Civil-Military Relations Office published the names of 27 University of the Philippines (UP) graduates, claiming they were members of the Communist Party. The release of the graduates’ names endangered the individuals to be targeted with harassment, at the very least. In the same month, the 1989 accord between UP and the Department of National Defense (DND) was terminated, enabling police and military forces to enter public universities and arrest participants of antigovernment protests en mass.

Between September and November 2021, the National Task force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), arms of the Duterte administration, compelled at least four universities to remove and turn over all books about communism and “subversive” ideologies from their libraries. Authorities closed 55 Indigenous primary schools in the Davao region in 2019 following allegations that the schools were teaching leftist ideology.

Security forces have increasingly monitored Islamic schools and schools attended by Indigenous peoples in areas of the southern Philippines where the military conducts counterinsurgency and antiterror missions. In October 2020, the military’s top general stated that the armed forces would monitor the estimated 500 Islamic schools in the country as possible recruitment sites for militants, sparking criticism by Muslim religious leaders. A January 2020 proposal by the police chief of Manila to compile lists of all Muslim students in high schools and universities in the city was rescinded following condemnation by citizens and rights groups.

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because the government terminated limits on military and police operations at the University of the Philippines, red-tagged graduates of the university, and pushed several universities to purge their libraries of books associated with communist ideology.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

Social media use is very widespread in the Philippines, but rights groups have expressed concern about threats against and censorship of online criticism and the criminalization of allegedly libelous social media posts. Arrests increased following the March 2020 enactment of an emergency law, Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which used overly broad language to criminalize the posting of fake news. Within weeks, investigators summoned over a dozen people for their social media posts. A human rights lawyer who had described the arrests as having a chilling effect was publicly attacked and insulted by Duterte, and multiple people who posted criticism or satirical posts about Duterte and the government were charged with crimes, including cyberlibel.

In April 2021, community pantries, set up to alleviate the rise in food scarcity and economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, became targets of red-tagging. Organizers of the initiatives were accused on social media by pro-Duterte groups of being fronts for the communist movement and staging the pantries to recruit members. Several organizers feared that this red-tagging would result in harassment from law enforcement and others.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Is there freedom of assembly? 2.002 4.004

Citizen activism is robust, and demonstrations are common. However, permits are required for rallies, and police sometimes use violence to disperse antigovernment protests.

Complaints of insufficient government aid amid the strict COVID-19 lockdown spurred protests that led to dozens of detentions and arrests in 2020. In addition, arrests occurred amid protests led by progressive organizations against the Anti-Terrorism Act signed into law in July 2020; protesters were charged with violating both pandemic-related restrictions and public assembly laws. While those demonstrators were charged for violating restrictions, in 2021, members of Duterte’s party held mass political gatherings ahead of the 2022 elections, despite lockdown restrictions.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2.002 4.004

Civil society has historically been robust in the Philippines, which hosts a range of active human rights, social welfare, environmental, and other groups. However, assassinations of civil society activists and human rights defenders continue; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and activists experience harassment and arrest; and President Duterte’s public threats against those who oppose his policies have exacerbated an already dangerous atmosphere of impunity.

In August 2021, Rex Fernandez, a human rights lawyer, was shot and killed by a gunman in Cebu. Fernandez was the third lawyer killed in Cebu in 2021. During the Duterte presidency, 66 lawyers have been killed and many have been harassed. On one day in March 2021, referred to as “Bloody Sunday,” nine activists were killed and six were arrested in provinces just outside the capital region. Two days prior, President Duterte had publicly stated that the police and the military should eradicate and kill communists in the country.

In July 2020, the government’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) published a report denouncing Duterte’s “systematic attack” on human rights defenders; at least 134 human rights defenders had been killed under the Duterte administration. The report asserted that the impunity for such killings was connected to frequent presidential pronouncements dismissing human rights and stigmatizing human rights defenders as drug suspects and communists.

In April 2021, lawmakers from the opposition proposed a bill to criminalize red-tagging. The Department of Justice (DOJ) supported the initiative, even as the proposed 2022 government budget increased funds for agencies that frequently use red-tagging as a tactic.

In a June 2020 report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that police and military intimidation tactics targeting activists continued during the coronavirus lockdowns.

According to Sweden-based Qurium Media, the human rights group Karapatan’s website experienced a series of DDoS cyberattacks between July and August 2021. The attacks were proxied using bots that originated from outside the Philippines. Karapatan’s Secretary General Cristina Palabay claimed they were intended to prevent the public from accessing reports on the worsening state of human rights in the country.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

Trade unions are independent, though less than 10 percent of the labor force is unionized. Collective bargaining is common among unionized workers, however, and strikes may be called as long as unions provide notice and obtain majority approval from their members.

Trade union members and labor and professional groups continue to be targets of red-tagging, stigmatization, and violence, and membership has declined in recent years. Leaders of such groups have been targeted amid a broader increase in extrajudicial killings that has taken place in the Philippines over the past decade. In March 2021, a labor leader was shot dead in Calamba, Laguna, three weeks after nine people were killed by police in various raids targeting political activists.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

Judicial independence has deteriorated during the Duterte administration. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Maria Lourdes Sereno, a harsh critic of the president, was ousted in 2018 for allegedly failing to disclose all her assets. The decision was sharply criticized by the opposition as a brazen, politically motivated attack on the independence of the judiciary. In December 2020, an impeachment complaint was filed Edwin Cordevilla, secretary general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, against another Supreme Court justice, Marvic Leonen, who is generally perceived as a human rights advocate. In September 2021, the impeachment case against Leonen was dismissed by the House of Representatives.

Judicial independence is also hampered by inefficiency, low pay, intimidation, corruption, and high vacancy rates. Since 2016, nine retired or former judges and justices and 14 former and current city prosecutors have been killed.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

The justice system fails to guarantee due process rights. Arbitrary detention, disappearances, kidnappings, and abuse of suspects are common. The OHCHR catalogued numerous due process violations linked to Duterte’s war on drugs, including the use of watch lists compiled by local officials that identify targets for home “visitations” that do not require warrants and often lead to extrajudicial execution.

The police and military have been implicated in corruption, extortion, and involvement in the illegal drug trade.

The Anti-Terrorism Act that took effect in July 2020 provides the state significant powers, including the warrantless arrest and detention of people designated as terrorists by an Anti-Terrorism Council appointed by the president. Rights advocates sharply criticized the law’s broad definition of terrorism as endangering dissent and free speech and stated that limits incorporated into the law were too vague to offer effective protection. At least 37 petitions challenging the law’s constitutionality have been filed in the Supreme Court. In December 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1.001 4.004

The Philippines has been afflicted by long-running insurgencies, and more recently, violent extremism in Mindanao. Since his election in 2016, Duterte has waged a violent war on drugs that has led to widespread extrajudicial killings. A 2020 OHCHR report on human rights in the Philippines stated that the government’s focus on countering terrorism and the drug war has resulted in numerous systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture of detainees, persistent impunity, and the vilification of dissent. A lack of effective witness protection has been a key obstacle to investigations against members of the security forces.

Authorities stated in July 2019 that 5,526 people had been killed in Duterte’s antidrug campaign. However, human rights groups put the number of related deaths between 2017 and 2019 at as many as 27,000, according to the most recently available statistics. The victims include civilians and children who were deliberately targeted. Convictions for extrajudicial killings and other such crimes are rare, and Duterte has appeared to encourage such violence.

In September 2021, a prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an investigation into the Duterte government’s war on drugs to determine whether the campaign of state-sponsored violence constitutes crimes against humanity. In November, the ICC suspended its investigation after the Philippine government requested a deferral.

Conflict in Mindanao has caused severe hardship, more than 120,000 deaths, and the displacement of tens of thousands of people since it erupted in 1972. Both government and rebel forces have committed summary killings and other human rights abuses.

In September 2021, elections to the legislature for the self-governing Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM)—created through a 2014 government peace treaty with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)—were postponed until 2025 by the Senate. In 2019, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) was constituted as the governing body until elections, which were scheduled for 2022. However, militant groups that broke away from the MILF continue to carry out attacks.

In 2018, President Duterte ended peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army–National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP), dashing hopes that the 50-year violent insurgency could reach a peaceful end during his administration. Deadly clashes between the NPA and the Philippine military continue to occur throughout the country. Pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Council designated the CPP-NPA as terrorist groups that December, allowing the Anti-Money Laundering Council to search for and freeze their assets.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

Provisions mandating equal treatment are upheld inconsistently, and some groups lack legal protection. LGBT+ people face bias in employment, education, and other services, as well as societal discrimination. An antidiscrimination bill that passed the lower house in 2017 has not advanced further, though several cities, including Manila in October 2020, have passed ordinances recognizing LGBT+ rights and prohibiting acts of discrimination. In the absence of national legislation, birth identification documents cannot be altered.

In September 2020, Duterte pardoned a US soldier convicted of killing a Filipino transgender woman in 2014, an act the CHR described as “an affront” to LGBT+ Filipinos. During Manila’s pride march in June 2020, 20 LGBT+ people were arrested for violations of public health and public assembly laws. Several LGBT+ people were subjected to humiliating treatment after being arrested in April of that year for violating the COVID-19 curfew.

According to the World Economic Forum, the Philippines features one of the smallest measured gender gaps in the world; women’s educational attainment outpaces men’s, and women are well represented in professional roles. Women still face some credit constraints and employment discrimination, and the political realm remains dominated by men, with women occupying only 23 percent of national and local elective positions.

Indigenous rights are generally upheld, but land disputes and local development projects regularly cause friction and sometimes lead to violence. Indigenous people often live in conflict areas and are targeted by combatants for their perceived loyalties.

The law mandates that at least 1 percent of public jobs be reserved for people with disabilities, but this is poorly upheld.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

Citizens enjoy freedom of travel and choice of residence, except for in areas affected by violent conflict. Although martial law in Mindanao ended at the start of 2020, the military continued its counterterrorism measures, which included checkpoints and a curfew.

Lockdowns in both 2020 and 2021 to combat the spread of COVID-19 led to the establishment of several hundred checkpoints manned by security forces to limit intercity travel, with additional localized entry and exit restrictions in villages.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

Private business activity is often dependent on the support of local power brokers in the complex patronage system that extends throughout the country. Outside of conflict zones, individuals are generally able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors, notwithstanding the domination and corruption of economic dynasties.

The 2020 coronavirus-related emergency law empowered the president to direct the operations of privately-owned businesses, including medical facilities and businesses in the transportation and hospitality sectors required for quarantine and temporary housing.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3.003 4.004

Most individuals enjoy personal social freedoms. However, divorce is illegal in the Philippines, though annulments are allowed under specified circumstances, and Muslims may divorce via Sharia (Islamic law) courts. In 2019, the Supreme Court denied a petition to recognize same-sex marriages, with a petition to reconsider denied in January 2020. Domestic violence is a significant problem, and while spousal rape is a crime, very few cases are prosecuted. Police data showed an increase in reported domestic violence against women and children during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Abortion is illegal in nearly all circumstances, though unregulated abortions are frequent. In December 2021, the Senate passed the Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2020, which extends the benefits and subsidies given to married parents to single parents.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts

Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

The Philippines is a source country for human trafficking, with some Filipinos taken abroad and forced to work in the fishing, shipping, construction, or other industries, or forced to engage in sex work. The country’s various insurgent groups have been accused of using child soldiers.

The legal minimum wage in the agricultural sector in some regions falls far short of what is necessary for a family to avoid poverty. Violation of minimum-wage standards is fairly common. There is a wide gap between the salaries of top executives and their employees.

Children have been reported working as domestic laborers. There is a shortage of labor inspectors; authorities have acknowledged the problem but say they have limited funds to address it. The Philippines is a global center of online child sexual abuse, and reports indicated an increase of such abuse during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

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