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Philippines’ Rule of Law & Human Rights

The Philippines Constitution vests judicial power in the Supreme Court and the lower courts. The Supreme Court is the highest appeal court and also hears constitutional matters. Lower courts can rule on constitutionality but these rulings do not become precedent. Below the Supreme Court sits the Court of Appeal, the Court of Tax Appeals and the Sandiganbayan – a court with jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving corrupt practices by public officers. Other courts include the Regional Trial Courts and Shariah District Courts, which hear cases from trial courts at the municipal and metropolitan levels. Alternative dispute resolution systems also exist at the village level and within the court system.

The Philippines has an Ombudsman and a National Human Rights Commission, both of which can receive individual complaints. There are a number of other human rights bodies within the government, including an Inter-Agency Committee (IAC), inaugurated in 2013, that is tasked with investigating cases of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. This Committee includes the representatives of the Philippines state security forces. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have Committees for Human Rights issues.

Of the ten ASEAN Member States, the Philippines has ratified the most international human rights treaties. The 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances is the only one of the nine core human rights treaties not yet ratified by the Philippines. However in December 2012, the Philippines passed a law that criminalizes disappearances, adopting the Convention’s definition of enforced or involuntary disappearances.

The Philippines has not extended a standing invitation to the UN special procedures and rejected the recommendation that it do so during its 2012 Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Special Procedures Mandate Holders have paid the following visits to the Philippines since 1998:

  • Independent Expert on the right to development (2001)
  • Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants (20 May-1 June 2002)
  • Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons (6-13 November 2002)
  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people (2-11 December 2002)
  • Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (12-21 February 2007)
  • Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons (5-9 November 2012)

See the Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights website for the visit reports.

The Philippines has enacted laws and regulations to implement the State’s international human rights treaty obligations. However, during the 2008 and 2012 UPR sessions the UN Human Rights Council questioned the Philippines’ ability to enforce this legal framework.

During the 2012 UPR, the dominant human rights issues were enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, particularly at the hands of state security forces, and impunity for these crimes. The Philippines was urged to put a stop to these violations. Human Rights Council Members also recommended that mechanisms be put in place to improve conditions of detention, including specific measures to prevent torture and take into account the special needs of children in detention. Inadequate protection of human rights defenders and witnesses was also raised during the 2012 session. From the two UPR cycles, the Philippines has accepted 136 Human Rights Council recommendations out of a total of 189, rejected four and not yet responded to 49.

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